Hello. I would like Andros Townsend to play left back.
I can imagine the skin seething at this suggestion, the scalps frothing with anger and the fingers bristling to type rancid vitriol the likes of which the internet has never before experienced outside of a Mail Online comments section about homosexual Muslim job-seeking adolescents seducing your daughter. I was going to ease you into this gently but, like ripping off a sticking plaster, these things are best done quickly.
Let me explain.
I don’t think he should play there long term, by the way. Good Lord no. This is very much a ‘needs must’ situation. But what the needs must at this particular moment is a left footed attacking player at left back. Danny Rose is one, but he’s injured. Jan Vertonghen is only half of one, and he doesn’t want to play there. Kyle Naughton isn’t one, and he’s not good enough. Zeki Fryers is also not really one, and he’s also injured. And not good or experienced enough.
If you stopped at the words “attacking” in the above paragraph, this is probably not the place for you. The inconvenient truth of the AVB system is that full backs are arguably our most important attacking players (no wonder we don’t score any goals, fnar fnar). After five games this season no other player in the team had touched the ball as much as Danny Rose (2nd) and Kyle Walker (1st). They are the starting point and the pivots for a majority of our attacks. Even in the opposition half, they see more of the ball than anyone else. Walker is in the top ten players in the Premier League (and unsurprisingly the only defender) for the most passes per game. He averages more key passes per game than Aaron Ramsey, Michael Carrick and Yaya Toure.
Our game relies heavily on getting our full backs beyond the currently-much-maligned inverted wingers. Our system needs those full backs to push up and widen the pitch, in turn making more room for Eriksen and creativity in the middle. In Sandro, Capoue or Dembele, we have the cover to stay back in case we lose the ball and get hit on the break. This system has been extremely successful defensively and the reason it hasn’t worked offensively is, I would argue, that we have not had a proper attacking left back since Rose’s injury. Our best football since has been the two halves (Everton first half, Newcastle second half) that Vertonghen got further up the pitch and repeatedly went outside the right back. Otherwise, we’re too easy to defend against as we don’t get wide and stretch the play, and teams know when it comes to us attacking down the left we never get to the byline. It’s much simpler to defend crosses that come from deep as you can organise and you are facing the right way. Until we get past the opposition right back – or at least look like doing so more frequently – we are twice as predictable.
So, for our system to work, we need a left back who is fast, left footed, comfortable with the ball at his feet, can deliver a cross and is called Andros (okay, I made that last one up).
It’s essentially the reverse move that Gareth Bale made. There were many who felt Gareth Bale would make a great left back. They weren’t wrong. It’s just he makes an even better attacking midfielder or inverted right winger. The arguments these people used for Bale at left back: “He can run onto the ball”, “He’ll have space in front of him to get his pace up”, “He can push back both the opposition right sided players taking them both out of the game”, “He can cross both early and when he gets to the byline”, “He has a left ruddy foot”, all these are exactly the same for Andros Townsend.
Would we miss much of Townsend in the attacking right side spot? One accidental goal and no assists would suggest otherwise, although his fine form has deserved a better return. Moving him back to a spot he played at youth team level on occasion might give him more chance to increase that assist column. It may also come at the cost of less shots on goal, but given his shooting accuracy that might not be a terrible thing. Would you rather currently see Townsend or Lamela cutting inside and pulling back their left leg for a strike on goal?
Which, for me, is the final factor. Townsend at left back lets Lamela – and another of our genuine star players, Jan Vertonghen - play in their preferred and best positions.
Let the vitriol commence.