winger happier off the wing – The Athletic

Matt Doherty’s sudden rejuvenation at Tottenham Hotspur came as a major surprise.

It’s not just because of his sudden form after a difficult 18 months at Spurs, but also because of his role alongside Antonio Conte. Doherty was deployed in his preferred winger role, but appeared in central positions rather than operating exclusively on the outside.

In a way, though, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. The positive aspects of Doherty’s reputation are largely based on his excellent debut Premier League campaign with Wolves in 2018-19. Although he was used as a wing-back in a 3-4-3, many of Doherty’s best moments came when he was playing on the pitch. This deserves further investigation.

Statistically, the most striking thing about Doherty’s debut Premier League campaign is that, for a winger, he rarely crossed the ball.

He has appeared in all 38 games this season, averaging 1.8 crosses per game. For context, that season Everton’s Lucas Digne and Watford’s Jose Holebas were the most prolific cruisers among full-backs and full-backs in the Premier League, with 8.5 and 7.9. The median was around three per game.

But Doherty’s numbers are very similar to those of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, a defensive-minded right-back in a defensive-minded Crystal Palace side – he has crossed 1.6 times per game. And Doherty was, of course, in a much more advanced role as a wing-back. Nuno Espirito Santo used to insist that these players were called wingers rather than wingers, that was their attacking responsibility, and got surprisingly upset if anyone got it wrong.

Meanwhile, of the 57 full-backs or full-backs to play 10 or more Premier League games that season, Doherty was third in shots – only Chelsea’s Marcos Alonso and Crystal Palace’s Patrick van Aanholt attempted more than its 41.

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