The forgotten man of Tottenham Hotspur.
During a summer in which Spurs have arguably weakened, selling Kyle Walker to Manchester City without yet signing a replacement, the message has consistently been that the club will eventually make their move in the transfer market.
“Our moment will arrive. We have a plan. We are calm… We have a very clear idea of what we want and what we need to do to try and achieve our target,” said Mauricio Pochettino.
It’s an important window for last year’s Premier League runners-up, as they look to build on a third and second place finish in the previous two seasons. However, Spurs are the only club yet to make a signing, emphasising both Pochettino and Daniel Levy’s preference to promote from within and give youth a chance.
One of those hoping for his chance is Georges-Kevin Nkoudou. Forever on the periphery of the first team squad, the 22-year-old has impressed in pre-season and he could yet play a big role in the forthcoming campaign.
A lack of opportunities
To say Nkoudou has been a transfer failure would be harsh, in fairness. The Frenchman made just eight Premier League appearances in 2016/17, totalling a meagre 83 minutes. It would be unfair to write him off after a season in which he wasn’t given a real opportunity.
Nkoudou’s transfer was officially announced on August 31st 2016 for a fee of £9 million, but he had been waiting patiently in North London since July. He was left in limbo and it proved detrimental to his debut campaign.
The high intensity of pre-season and double training sessions are known features of Pochettino’s training methods and Nkoudou was denied that. To try and play for one of the Argentine’s teams without a pre-season under your belt is a huge ask and thus he began the season unfit.
Couple that with injury issues and without a run of games in the first team and it results in a player unable to find his feet both tactically and athletically.
The difference this year is already clear to see with Nkoudou impressing in Spurs’ pre-season tour of the United States, assisting three goals in two games versus Paris Saint-Germain –battling Dani Alves no less- and Roma.
Nkoudou at Wembley
In the French Ligue 1, Nkoudou was known for his speed and dribbling ability, the best attributes he possesses. In fact, only six players in Ligue 1 averaged more successful dribbles per game than Nkoudou (2.3) in 2015/16.
With such great speed, powerful direct running and trickery, Nkoudou thrives in one-on-one situations, able to use skill to beat his man and come inside, or knock the ball towards the byline and beat the defender for speed. It’s this ability that will be most important this season.
A massive fuss has been made over the temporary move to Wembley and the effects it’s going to have on the team, one of which is getting used to the dimensions of the pitch, noticeably larger than that of White Hart Lane. Such space, though, is beneficial for Nkoudou.
On the bigger Wembley pitch, Nkoudou can stay wide and wait for the ball to come to his feet. When it does, he’ll likely end up isolated against one defender, situations in which he thrives, using speed, skill and power to find a way past.
Nkoudou’s ambidexterity –his ability to play off either foot- will make him a tricky opponent for defenders, adding a sense of unpredictability to his game. Defenders won’t know whether he’s going to charge down the flanks or cut inside and go for goal, another string to his bow.
What role will he play?
An attacking trident of Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli is arguably the best in the Premier League when playing in a 3-4-2-1. It puts Eriksen and Alli as close to Kane as possible and allows them to exploit the space in central areas.
Nkoudou provides a very different option to any one of those three forwards, hence pertaining to a greater degree of tactical flexibility. Pochettino could switch to a 4-2-3-1, previously the staple formation of his Spurs tenure, and use Nkoudou’s skillset to great effect.
He will provide width in the three-man attacking midfield behind Kane and his speed will be a dangerous weapon on the counter-attack, especially on the big Wembley pitch with space in behind defences, particularly those that play with a high line.
Spurs, too, prefer to work the ball into the box as opposed to crossing, but again Nkoudou offers something different. He’s not afraid to cross and has a wicked delivery.
It’s unlikely that the 22-year-old will find a permanent role in the first team, but his energy and directness off the bench late in games may prove vital when Spurs are chasing down a lead, looking for that extra spark when Plan A isn’t working.
The extent of his role is as of yet undetermined, but Nkoudou will certainly have a part to play next season. Expect bigger and better things from the 22-year-old with a proper pre-season and an extra degree of confidence under his belt.
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