Since August 2017, Serge Aurier has been a Tottenham Hotspur player. During his two years and a half at the club, Aurier has known ups and downs. Among them, a Champions League final.
In November 2019, Mauricio Pochettino got sacked and José Mourinho has been confirmed as the new manager of Tottenham. Although he didn’t have many options to pick from at right-back, Mourinho made Aurier his first choice there. However, rumors arise that Spurs are looking for a new starter at right-back for next season. Three names have been linked with the English side: Youcef Atal from OGC Nice, Diogo Dalot from Manchester United and Max Aarons from Norwich City.
In this tactical analysis under the form of a scout report, we will look at Serge Aurier’s role under Mourinho’s tactics. We will then look at which players previously mentioned can replace him in the starting eleven next season with an analysis of their styles of play.
Serge Aurier’s role under Mourinho
When Mourinho arrived at Tottenham, he said he had a new philosophy. Although this statement isn’t entirely true, Mourinho has brought a new concept to his side: underloads. Indeed, Tottenham build with their left-back in a three at the back system and Aurier high and wide on the right side.
Their aim is to overload the left side in order to switch the play to the underloaded side, where Aurier will be able to receive and drive forward with space in front of him. On his heatmap, one can see Aurier is very high for a right-back.
His positioning is also highlighted below with the picture where Aurier is high and wide. He waits to receive the ball to drive into space.
However, this strategy suits possession-based sides a lot more than sides who aim to operate on the counter. Tottenham are the latter, hence why Aurier’s work is crucial. He has to be good on both hands of the pitch to not leave gaps in transitions but also carry the attacking threat down the right flank.
He has to be a good crosser of the ball and smart at using the space allowed when he bombs forward. This is highlighted below, where Aurier is in a good situation with time and space to make a good cross.
This situation where Aurier is allowed to cross happens a fair amount of time during a game and he has time to deliver his cross. Although Harry Kane has been injured for a while, this can be a very interesting pattern once the English striker will come back from injury. With Dele Alli behind and Heung-Min Son on the right, we can say that Mourinho’s strategy to cross the ball makes a lot of sense.
Now that we have established Aurier’s role, we will have a look at his stats compared to the other right-backs the Portuguese manager seems interested in.
As you can see, Aurier is pretty high on both scatter-plots. It looks like he is pretty good on both sides of the pitch. So, why does Mourinho want to get rid of him?
Firstly, Aurier doesn’t seem to be the right man for Tottenham’s pattern of crossing the ball from the underloaded side. Indeed, he is the worst right-back in the league in terms of crossing accuracy, with only 17% accuracy. He has tall players like Harry Kane, Dele Alli or Heung-Min Son to cross the ball to, yet he still has a bad crossing accuracy.
Then, although Aurier has good defensive stats on the scatter-plot, he is very error-prone. He has scored an own goal this season and has been disastrous again Leipzig away from home. Mourinho asks his players to sustain pressure very deep in their own half. That’s why he can’t have an error-prone right-back in his side.
As you can see below, the 27 years old’s positioning is a major issue. He comes deep too soon and doesn’t time his vertical leap well, which resulted in a goal for Leipzig.
All in all, Aurier has been tasked to do something only very complete full-backs can do. He has to handle one side on his own and we can say he doesn’t cut it. That’s why Tottenham want to replace him. We will now look into their targets in order to decide which one is the best option.
Youcef Atal (23 years old)
Youcef Atal is a 23 years old right-back playing for OGC Nice in Ligue 1. He has only played 1096 minutes due to injury this season and has mainly played as a winger. Indeed, the Algerian international is the most versatile player in this analysis.
He is able to play on both wings, whether it is as a full-back or as a winger. It makes him the ideal candidate from an offensive point of view, as he knows how to act higher up the pitch. He has scored seven open play goals in the league since the 2018/2019 season.
Atal is also faster than Aarons and Dalot. He was recorded at a pace of 36.6 km/h this September. He is able to carry the ball from deep and create space to either shoot or cross. He is helped by his dribbling technique. The Algerian international attempts 12 dribbles per 90, twice more than any other RB in Europe.
Below, you can see him dribbling his way out of the press and making the opponent tracks back thanks to his ability to carry the ball from deep areas. Thanks to his abilty, he had two options. He could pass the ball to his teammate alone in front of him and keep carrying the ball to take his chance. He decided to carry the ball and scored.
He is also very good at taking the overlap. Indeed, he is second in Ligue 1 in terms of progressive runs, which means he knows how to attack space. He times his runs very well and is able to put himself into good positions. When he is in good positions, he is able to use one of his best traits: his whipped cross.
This is a crossing technique, not every full-back has it and this cross is much more dangerous than others as it is difficult to catch for the goalkeeper and precise enough to reach the target. However, Atal only has a 16.7% success rate when it comes to crossing this season. Less than Aurier, which is something Mourinho can be afraid of.
This has to be put into perspective when you look at Atal’s teammates and the Nice system though. Indeed, the Algerian is less likely to hit his target than Aurier because the system doesn’t necessarily allow his teammates to be into good positions to receive his cross, hence why his accuracy will be lower than expected.
Despite only having one assist since he is at Nice, Atal has close to four xA, which means he is able to create chances for his teammates but they don’t convert them. You can also see below that Atal puts himself into a good position to cross and is able to reach his target who will score.
Atal is in the first tier of Ligue 1 full-backs when it comes to defensive duels success rate. However, he doesn’t necessarily win his aerial duels with great efficiency nor does he wins his tackles. On both metrics, he is in the last tier among Ligue 1 full-backs.
It could cause some issues to Tottenham when they defend deep in their own box. If they want to sustain pressure, they can’t afford to make mistakes and Atal could make one due to his defensive deficiencies. This is something he has to work on but Mourinho is known for developing this side of the game in his defenders.
All in all, Atal seems well-suited to Tottenham’s system. He is only 23 years old and is already one of the best offensive fullbacks in the world. If he can improve his defensive game, he will be one of Europe’s most complete fullbacks.
Max Aarons (20 years old)
The Norwich right-back is 20 years old since January. He is the youngest of the four players of this analysis but also the most promising. Indeed, Maximilian Aarons has been one of Norwich best performers this season and it didn’t come as a surprise that Spurs became interested in his profile.
Aarons has one year of Premier League football and one year of Championship football. He is already accustomed to Premier League’s physicality. Indeed, the 20 years old is strong on his feet and doesn’t shy away from a challenge.
Something very important as he isn’t a risk without possession and can make a tackle or win a duel in order to prevent the opposition to gain territory.
The Norwich full-back is also 178cm tall, a very good size for a full-back. Indeed, it means he is tall enough to win aerial duels. He is also able to control far post crosses where an opponent is in his back to take the ball from him. Indeed, the far post cross is very useful for teams who aim to break down mid-to-low blocks.
With Mourinho an adept of this mid-to-low block, this is always a good thing to have a strong and tall right-back who can clear the ball and avoid dangerous situations.
Norwich like to play with one deep full-back and the other one high and wide on the underloaded side, a bit like what Mourinho is doing at Tottenham. Aarons has been tasked to be the high and wide full-back at Norwich so it doesn’t come as a surprise that his profile is highly regarded by the Portuguese manager.
Aarons has also proved he can do this role with great efficiency. Indeed, he is able to maintain width as well as being able to bomb up and down the pitch. With 2.34 progressive runs per 90, we can say Aarons is a direct dribbler when it comes to attacking space. He is also a good crosser, with a 24.6% success rate. This is above Aurier despite not being with better headers of the ball in front of goal at Norwich, which means he is very effective and his crosses are easier to take. Harry Kane will love this.
Below, you can see that Aarons is also smart when it comes to crossing the ball. He takes the overlap and makes an accurate low cross to reach his teammate who will have an easy finish to make.
But we are yet to talk about the Norwich right-back’s most valuable assets: his good spatial awareness and ground passing. When he is defending, we could think Aarons will still have a lot of work since he is still very young. It couldn’t be further from the truth. The English youngster is fast so he is effective in transitions but he is also aware of what he has to do on the defensive side of the game.
Below, you can see Aarons following his man. While doing so, he is still scanning to make sure he won’t stay close to his man once the ball will come deeper into Norwich’s half. When the ball came inside, Aarons was aware of it and decide to come deeper in order to control runners in behind. This is what you want from your right-back and Aurier didn’t provide this often enough this season.
When you have an underloaded side, your full-back has to handle the offensive burden on his own. When the game is on this underloaded side, many options will be available to the full-back. He can either carry the ball from deep to make a cross or hit the inside with a good ground pass.
This ground pass is crucial since the underloaded side will lack opponents and if the full-back and one of his teammates operate quickly enough, the team can create a good goalscoring chance.
We already established Aarons was a very good crosser of the ball but he is also very assured in his ground passing. He often makes the pass with the good weight and knows how to move accordingly after making that pass to his teammate.
Indeed, despite being surrounded by teammates with worse movement and overall footballing IQ than Aurier, Aarons has a better pass completion with 79.7% completion, whereas Aurier is 1% below him.
All in all, Aarons has a good footballing IQ and is technically sound. He is Premier League proven. With Norwich going down, he won’t necessarily cost much. As he is still very young, his performances are uneven but he will prove his worth and Mourinho likes to work with defenders to improve them.
Diogo Dalot (21 years old)
Diogo Dalot is the most obvious when it comes to José Mourinho. Indeed, he already played under the Portuguese coach at United. Mourinho even said about Dalot that he was the best right-back Manchester have had since Gary Neville. He trusts Dalot. However, is the Portuguese right-back the right choice for Tottenham?
Playing for Mourinho in the past doesn’t necessarily imply that you will play for him again. Indeed, Dalot is the less polished right-back of the three Tottenham’s targets. He has many things to work on and is also very injury prone.
The 21 years old defender has only played 2200 minutes since he came to Manchester United in 2018. He has already missed 32 games due to injury in England.
On top of this, Dalot isn’t aware of his surroundings when he defends. He often forgets runners in behind doesn’t have the reactivity good right-backs possess.
This is highlighted below. The opponent makes an inside pass and Dalot is focused on what is happening around the new ball-carrier. He lets his opponent running in behind to deliver a dangerous cross.
Although it can be improved, Dalot isn’t as fast as Atal and Aarons. This lack of lightening pace can be an issue moving forward if he wants to improve defensively. As a right-back in this Spurs side, he will have to handle transitions and also deep defending. In both cases, Dalot is struggling and Mourinho can be afraid to invest in him.
However, the Portuguese defender is very impressive going forward. He is versatile. He has played as a right-winger for United as well as left-back. He is able to handle the offensive side of the game, as asked by Tottenham’s staff.
He is also smart and has a good space awareness going forward. Indeed, he knows he isn’t as fast as other full-backs so he developed his footballing IQ in order to be as efficient offensively as them. And we can say it has been a success.
As he only played 500 minutes due to injury this season, we will take his stats from last season to have a bigger sample size. In the Premier League last season, Dalot averaged 0.9 successful crosses per 90 with a 28% crossing accuracy. A little reminder that Aurier averages 0.7 successful crosses per 90 with 17% crossing accuracy. This is quite impressive for a right-back.
The Portuguese right-back is able to put himself into good positions to cross. His offensive instincts are already at a very high level and he times his runs perfectly in order to have the edge on his opponent to have the time to cross. There, you can see Dalot didn’t dribble past his opponent but he was still able to deliver a very good cross on Rashford’s head.
In this analysis, we have seen that being a right-back for Tottenham isn’t an easy task. He has to be good both offensively and defensively. Dalot is probably the less convincing target of the three but Aarons and Atal both have a solid case.
I would lean towards Max Aarons as he is Premier League proven and already on par with Youcef Atal as a player despite being three years younger. Both are very good options and Tottenham won’t be wrong on either of them as they will upgrade on Aurier on both occasions. Both can cross, defend and carry the offensive threat on the right side for Tottenham.
However, in order to compete, Spurs need more than just a right-back and their defensive line has to be changed. Mourinho knows this and looking for a right-back is a move in the right direction.