LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 26: Yossi Benayoun of Arsenal is challenged by Kyle Walker of Tottenham Hotspur during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on February 26, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
So, yesterday it was revealed that Kyle Walker had been named the PFA's Young Player of the Year and also made it into their team of the year. That revelation prompted this article from Kevin and the subsequent comment discussion over whether or not Kyle Walker was actually good. I thought about commenting in that thread, but I decided to write something a bit longer.
First, let's begin by praising Kyle Walker. Walker, for his first full Premier League season has performed reasonably well. He has struggled at times, but who doesn't struggle against Ashley Young, David Silva, and Juan Mata? He has exhibited some incredible pace and even an eye for goal. He has been, essentially, ever-present for Spurs this season and has even received two caps for England as a result of his play.
His form has been so good, in fact, that Tottenham Hotspur loaned out the club's only other proven right back in January. Vedran Corluka spent much of the early season injured, but when he returned Walker was so entrenched in the position the Croatian never stood a chance of unseating him. We can all debate the merits of that decision, but let's be honest, Corluka isn't walking through that door anytime soon. In fact, I would wager he goes to Bayer Leverkusen permanently this summer.
Look, I get why everyone likes Kyle Walker. His speed is eye-catching and when you see him track back and make last ditch tackles as against QPR you think "Wow! Look at that!" What you aren't seeing is his poor positioning initially or his lack of awareness. You missed that because you were blown away by his speed. Walker is 21 years old and certainly has the potential to become an excellent fullback in the Premier League, but let's not pretend that he's anything better than average at this point. Maybe it's merely the way in which Tottenham use him that aggravates me, but regardless he is not as good as he could or should be.
First, let me just put this out here: Tottenham use their fullbacks in a really odd way. Benoit Assou-Ekotto has attempted the second most passes on the team, trailing only Luka Modric. Walker is fourth in terms of attempted passes. Ahead of Van der Vaart, Bale, and quite a few others. In terms of passes per game the two fullbacks rank third and fifth respectively. The other odd thing about their usage is that both make less than one accurate cross per game. Additionally, neither are terribly accurate passers. Walker completes 83% of his passes, BAE only 80%.
The obvious logic behind using the fullbacks in this manner is that when you have wingers who cut inside or use the dreaded inverted wingers, you need attacking fullbacks to provide width. It's clear that that's what manager Harry Redknapp is attempting to do with his fullbacks, but in practice it doesn't really work like that. Both are almost as apt to cut inside as they are to carry the ball to the endline and deliver a cross.
So, perhaps Walker's deficiencies result from poor tactical usage. It would seem he would work better with a true, touchline-hugging winger. That doesn't mean we can excuse whatever shortcomings he may have as a player. A good manager would find a way to effectively utilize Walker. We have Harry Redknapp and thus Walker's shortcomings are on display every week.
Walker, has bags of pace, but he's been exposed by Premier League wingers this season and not just good ones like Ashley Young, Juan Mata, and David Silva, but also Matthew Etherington and Jean Beausejour. Walker has seemed most vulnerable when defending set pieces. A number of key goals have been given up because Walker has let his man get goal-side of him on corners and freekicks. His lack of defensive skill would be excusable if he, like teammate Gareth Bale or even (and yes, I'm stretching here) Dani Alves, offered some benefit going forward.
Walker when on the attack occasionally looks confused. His dribbling isn't horrible, but he, much like most quick players, has a tendency to do more "kick and run" than dribble. I mentioned his cross completions per game and while that is probably due in part to the team not having a viable target striker, Walker still seems to hit erratic and errant crosses. Additionally, Walker gives away possession rather easily. How many times has he given the ball away in the middle third of the pitch and then been out of position as our opponent starts a counter? The answer is too many. Sure Walker's pace helps him recover, but that doesn't excuse carelessness on the ball.
I'm not advocating the sale of Walker or using this award to drive up his price, but am advocating open competition for the right back during the pre-season. I want to know for certain that Walker is better than Kyle Naughton, Younes Kaboul, and, possibly, Vedran Corluka. I want them all to compete for the position and may the best player wing.