It was a good weekend for Tottenham as they took a huge stride towards Champions League football. There has been a focus on their front three, as they have been free scoring in recent weeks. However, the improvement of Matt Doherty has been crucial in the form under Antonio Conte. The Italian head coach has an ability of improving average full-backs and getting them to reach levels others thought impossible.
In recent history, Ashley Young, Victor Moses and Matteo Darmian have all become reliable wing-back options for Conte. The system coached by the Italian provides an environment for the wing-backs to thrive. Prior to his appointment, Doherty was seen as one of the worst players in the Tottenham squad. Even the arrival of his former Wolves manager Nuno Espirito Santo did little to help the Irishman break into the first team.
During January, there were murmurs that he might be sold back to Wolves, but he remained in North London and he is benefitting from that decision. Doherty is now arguably the first choice wing back in the current squad, moving ahead of Emerson Royal and Sergio Reguilon. He has shown that he can be effective on either flank and confidence is radiating through his game.
Although there remain doubts about his defensive qualities, Doherty offers a huge attacking threat. That was what allowed him to rise to prominence at Wolves. During his first season at Tottenham, he was used as a right-back in a back four, which really didn’t suit him. In that role, he looked lost at Premier League level and he was quickly benched by Jose Mourinho.
Doherty is best when he is given license to attack and Conte has found a system that allows him to do that. Cristian Romero has been key, as he is a very good defender on the right flank and can cover the space if Doherty is caught out of position. The balance of the team is very good now and that has allowed the wing-back to excel.
The confidence is shown in the data, as he has contributed two goals and four assists in 2022. He is averaging a goal involvement every 125.7 minutes. This shows how influential he is at the moment. To provide context, new signing Dejan Kulusevski has been averaging one every 109.1 minutes.
In terms of his underlying numbers, Doherty is averaging 0.28 expected goals (xG) and 0.2 expected assists (xA) per ninety minutes. For Tottenham, he ranks 3rd for xG and 5th for xA during this period for players with more than 200 minutes played.
One of the key patterns for Conte’s Tottenham has been to get the wing backs running into the back post to offer goal threat. The team are very good at getting into positions where they can cross to an unmarked wing back. Doherty is the best at making these runs and his form shows that he is getting a lot of success.
This could just be a purple patch for Doherty. For Tottenham to match Conte’s ambition, it is likely that they will want improvements at wing-back. However, Conte is a manager that likes to reward players for meeting his demands. There is a chance for Doherty to become a really important player for the short term future.
Stats taken from Understat