Étienne Capoue’s Role Change Driving the Form Change


If I were to ask you, statistically speaking who was the second best player in the Ligue 1 after Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the 2012-13 season, you might think that I am crazy. In other circumstances, this indeed is a crazy question suited to the 100th level of a trivia quiz game. But these days, the same player is making unexpected waves in the English Premier League. His name is Étienne Capoue.


For some reason, in the summer of 2013, I had looked at the Whoscored statistics for all the top 5 European leagues. When I listed all the players as per their Whoscored rating, I was amazed to find the name of an unknown (to me then) defensive midfielder as the second best player in the French top tier. I would have expected Ibra’s illustrious team mates from PSG or the fairly expensively accumulated Monaco players to hold the top positions. But it was Capoue, who played for the mid-tier Toulouse, was sitting there with a season rating of 7.53.

Seems that I was not the only one noticing, as Tottenham Hotspur purchased the player for 11M Euros a few weeks later. This was not surprising as Spurs were spreading around the Bale wealth quite generously and 11M of it landed with Toulouse for Capoue. After joining Spurs, his performances were in line with his nondescript reputation, earning him a move to Watford in 2015-16.

Somehow this move seems to have spurred (pun unintended) him to show his 2012-13 pedigree. He has scored 4 goals in 5 appearances and assisted one goal, giving his team a good start in the league. What has led to this change in form and can we expect it to continue? Let’s take a look at some of the reasons for this surge in form.


For Toulouse, Capoue was primarily a defensive midfielder (144 matches) and at times a centre-back (31 matches).  From these positions he scored 13 goals and assisted 10 across over four seasons (2008-09 to 2012-13), scoring or assisting a goal roughly every 8 games. As I said before – not phenomenal.

At Tottenham as well, he was primarily played at DM (29 matches) and CB (5 matches), with one match as CM. From the defensive midfield he scored 2 and assisted 2 goals over two seasons. This might seem worse than Toulouse but it was marginally better – a goal or assist every 6.6 games. He missed 17 games for Spurs due to injuries in 2013-14.

At Watford also, during his first season Quique Flores played him as a defensive midfielder, especially before mid-January this year. But between then and mid-April he was played mostly as a central midfielder and a left midfielder. His contribution from all three positions was quite meagre in terms of attack as he provided only one assist during the entire season.

But Walter Mazzari must have thought that there was some merit in playing him further forward as he has played him almost exclusively in the CM role and Capoue has rewarded him with a goal or an assist for every match (4 goals and 1 assist in 5 matches). He clearly seems to be enjoying his slightly forward role on the field.


From his statistics, Capoue seems to be an average midfielder with limited passing range and just about average tackling ability. His long ball accuracy in 2015-16 for Watford was 55%, while his short pass accuracy was 83%. At Spurs, his short pass accuracy was almost 89%, while long ball accuracy was 69%.

Last season, he was also not a prolific tackler like Kante or Gueye but was average as he put in 2.9 successful tackles per game (4.1 total). Thus he was not well suited to a DM role in a counter-attacking Watford side that needed better long ball accuracy and the ability to convert their brief possession spells into meaningful chances. By pushing Capoue forward in a 3-5-2 or a 4-1-4-1 formation Mazzari is playing to his strength – short passes. Capoue’s short pass accuracy in the last five games has been 82% – in line with last season, increasing his key passes from 0.8 per game last season to 1.4 per game this season. He has also been instructed to press and tackle more frequently from his slightly forward position. Capoue is now putting in 5.4 tackles per game, being successful in 3.4 of them.

Thus I believe that Mazzari has changed Capoue’s role in the team from an average defensive midfielder to a more attacking, pressing, and still accurately short-passing midfielder. The nondescript stone from Toulouse is now getting a chance to shine at Watford.

(Stats sourced from www.whoscored.com and www.transfermarkt.com )


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here