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It’s been international week in the men’s game and the start of the FA Women’s Super League in the women’s game (all games available to watch, at least for now, on demand on the FA Player app (also available on Android and iOS)). And, um, I’m ignoring both of them to focus on the North London Derby from a week ago.
Davinson Sanchez, by all accounts, didn’t have a good game, but players having bad games is pretty useful to analyse some basic aspects of the sport. The main thing that he struggled with was almost everything to do with facing players one-on-one. The judgement, the positioning, the actual one-on-one. Let’s take one specific example and break it down in more detail.
A pass is going into Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the left-hand side. Crucially, wide on the left-hand side (below).
Sanchez is moving across a little, but he really isn’t moving very fast or very far. In fact, he only starts to pick up the pace right before Aubameyang controls the ball (below). This isn’t an unusual tactic — when a player receives the ball, they generally take their eye off everything else, and so rushing them in this moment sometimes works to panic them — but Sanchez is too far off for it to work. The real trick is to rush towards them while they’re waiting for the ball. Sanchez didn’t do that.
Aubameyang now has control of the ball and can run whichever which way he wants to. And because Sanchez is so far off, that leaves him vulnerable.
It’s really difficult to close a player down while simultaneously preparing yourself to run in completely the opposite direction, and so Sanchez gets caught, as so many other players do, in an awkward type of block-step-y approach, that leaves him kind of square on. (below)
And, because of this, it’s relatively easy for Aubameyang to move past Sanchez. (below)
There were a number of similar moments throughout the match where Sanchez struggled, particularly as Arsenal played with wide forwards and Spurs, generally, played with a pretty narrow midfield.
His uncertainty in execution of these one-vs-one moments meant that he was also pretty uncertain about when he should go in and engage and when he shouldn’t. Early on in the Sky Sports commentary, Gary Neville criticised Sanchez for being too narrow, which forced Moussa Sissoko out wide to defend. While Neville’s criticism of Sanchez was pretty fair, it was probably unlucky for the defender, in terms of the narrative around the match, that an analytically-minded former-right-back was on co-commentary for the game. Had it been almost any of England’s other regular co-commentators, he might not have ended the game as the talking point that he was.
These moments aside, I don’t think that Sanchez was too bad. This was certainly his worst feature by a distance. His pass map was distinctly less forwards than Danny Rose’s, but that may have been down to teammates, and by eye he seemed competent enough.
But it was definitely the parts of a full-back’s responsibilities that could broadly be called ‘one-on-one’ territory that caused him trouble. The introduction of Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the second half made things a little easier for him. The Armenian doesn’t have the pace to get around defenders like Aubameyang or Nicolas Pepe, and that lack of pace probably also made Sanchez feel a little safer in going out to close him down too.
Hey, maybe Serge Aurier can give Sanchez some tips in training so that Pochettino can continue to not-pick the Frenchman. Spurs are weird.
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