The only team to be undefeated in the league, Tottenham Hotspur, have begun the new season well. The 2-0 win over Manchester City was the perfect result before the two weeks long international break. Considering Spurs have done well so far, there have unmistakably been some players who have given great performances. Heung-Son Min has recently been getting amongst the goals, Erik Lamela looks like his underperforming days are behind him, Christian Eriksen remains a consistently brilliant player for the side, and Toby Alderweireld rarely has a bad day. However, the player who deserves the plaudits right now is Kyle Walker.
Playing in the best defensive side in the Premier League at the moment, having gone undefeated since the start of the season, and with just three goals conceded, Walker is enjoying the form of his life. He plays in a defence that is incredibly confident and assured in their abilities. The faith the fans have in this rock solid defence is not misplaced.
Walker has been the kind of player who doesn’t always get the credit he deserves. In fact, he falls into the category of players whose good performances are taken for granted, and mistakes highlighted disproportionately. This has changed over the last few months, and Walker’s improvement and quality have received deserved praise.
There were indeed times when he was caught out of position, or made hasty decisions in areas that could cause the side some trouble, but with time, these instances have become rarer, and his performances more assured.
Perhaps that is also down to the acquisition of Toby Alderweireld. The Belgian has been sensational since his arrival at White Hart Lane and has formed a great partnership with Jan Vertonghen at the back. Tottenham have amended their leaky defence and having the quality of these two centre-backs besides Walker would have certainly played a large part in his vast improvement in the last year or so.
Mauricio Pochettino has also done brilliantly at the club, and the effect he has had on his players cannot be understated. The defence has tightened up considerably since his first season at the helm. In 2014-15, the Spurs defence conceded 53 goals and only scored 58. The Argentine realised that defence needs to be improved for Spurs to get success, and be a part of the Champions League, compete for trophies, and eventually even be part of the title chase.
His changes evidently had the desirable effect and Spurs conceded just 35 goals last season and have only let in three in seven games this season, keeping four clean sheets. Ensuring a clean sheet against a City side who has been scoring for fun, shows how good the defence has been, and Tottenham’s full-backs have a significant role to play.
Walker always did well going forward. His natural game, much like any modern day full-back, flourished in providing an outlet out wide, creating an overlap and converting himself into almost a proper winger. H used to struggle with consistency in his passing, and making positional mistakes. He would bomb forward and wouldn’t be able to track back, and this positional weakness would cost his defence. All in all, the defensive side of his game was much weaker than the offensive side. There have been massive improvements over the last season and in the seven Premier League games so far, Walker’s stats speak for themselves.
He averages 2.9 tackles, 1.4 interceptions, and 2.4 clearances every 90 minutes. He is also contributing offensively and has 1.1 key passes every 90 minutes. He has made two assists in the league so far.
Pochettino and his staff’s insistence on his players spending a lot of time in the gym, and working on their fitness also have to be credited. Walker admitted that Pochettino’s managerial style and his insistence on the players spending a lot of time in the gym was “horrible at first”. Later, Walker, like other teammates, realised how important it was.
He said back in April, “We can all play football, but one of the basics of this game is that you need to run about and work for each other. That’s what’s pushed us on to the next level. Now, if he [Pochettino] says ‘do a gym session in the afternoon’, it’s a normal thing. We just get on and do it.”
The right-back is only 26 years old, and he is arguably just reaching his prime. He is now at a stage where he can remove all the weaknesses in his game and develop his all round play. He has already shown the exponential difference from a player who was defensively fragile and regarded as the weak link in the Spurs unit.
As a full-back, Walker is expected to have the energy to run up and down the flank for 90 minutes in a game, and the England international has been putting a marvellous shift in for the side and is certainly one of the key players for Tottenham at the moment.