Here’s Why Tanganga Should be Playing More for Spurs
Japhet Tanganga has long been seen as a future star at Spurs, in his appearances for the first team so far, he has looked assured and appears to have all the athletic requirements for a Premier League defender. Despite this Tanganga has only appeared on 10 occasions this season, with his start against Aston Villa this past Sunday being just his 3rd appearance in the premier league this season and only his 13th start in senior football. Against Aston Villa Tanganga seized his opportunity and looked very comfortable in what seemed an otherwise relatively nervous back line. Tanganga starting at right-back is something Spurs fans have been dying to see following Serge Aurier’s inconsistency and injury issues this season coupled with new signing Doherty’s’ poor performances, where he unsurprisingly struggles playing in a back 4, having excelled as a wing back for most of his career. Making some crucial blocks and barely being troubled by Trezeguet or El Ghazi on Sunday, only helps stake the claim that Tanganga should be getting as much playing time at Spurs as possible across the final 10 games of this season.
Who is Tanganga as a player and where does he fit in at Spurs?
Most Spurs fans introduction to Japhet Tanganga would have been from the Hackney-born defenders’ debut in the summer of 2019, a real baptism of fire, being thrown in the deep end and challenged with nullifying Cristiano Ronaldo of all players in a pre-season friendly vs Juventus in Singapore. Tanganga was up to the task and kept the 5 time Ballon d’or winner quiet before his substitution in the first half, which lead to spurs conceding twice in the second half (eventually winning 3-2). This assured performance was notable to the point that it was earmarked by Mourinho even before his arrival at Spurs. In Spurs Amazon documentary All or Nothing Mourinho can be heard complimenting Tanganga on his performance against Ronaldo despite it coming months prior to Mourinho’s arrival at Tottenham.
Tanganga has often been thrown in the deep end in his spurs career so far, 2 of his 13 starts have come up against powerhouses Man City and Liverpool. Against Man City he was brilliant up against Riyad Mahrez as a makeshift left-back in a game which spurs triumphed 2-0. This was followed up with another impressive display against Liverpool in January 2020, where in a game where Liverpool edged a deserved 1-0 win, Tanganga managed to steal some of the spotlight by virtually marking Sadio Mane out of the game. Tanganga’s talents are clear to see through displays against some of the world’s best wingers at just 20 years of age despite minimal first team experience. It also shouldn’t be forgotten and is a credit to him as a player that he appears a long way ahead in terms of development compared to other highly rated defensive prospects amongst the Spurs academy such as Timothy Eyoma and Brooklyn Lyons-Foster.
Tanganga has played 21 times for spurs, Pochettino played Tanganga just the once in an embarrassing league cup exit to Colchester in 2019, but once Mourinho took over he handed two starts to Tanganga, one in the defeat to eventual champions Liverpool and another against Middlesbrough in the FA cup. Tanganga started as a centre-back and mostly played there throughout his youth career, however perhaps due to his athleticism Mourinho has always seen Tanganga as a right-back. Tanganga isn’t short at 6ft however he isn’t as aerially dominant as the likes of Davinson Sanchez and Toby Alderweireld, his more stocky frame and tenacity in carrying the ball forward are qualities he possesses which make him look more destined to play at right-back. Tanganga showed against Middlesbrough that he also has the ability to get forward and be a threat from full-back, he made several bursting runs being positive and showing raw pace and power when getting forward. Turning 22 next week, Tanganga has plenty of time to develop but he must play more against weaker opposition for a true judgement on his ability as a full back. Most of Tanganga’s displays have come against tough opposition (He has already started against Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City and RB Leipzig) where Spurs have taken a negative tactical approach and therefore Tanganga has only been able to demonstrate his sound defensive capabilities, as opposed to playing more against weaker premier league opposition where Spurs would have more of the ball and Tanganga would perhaps be able to show more of what he could offer being astute in when taking the ball forward and having opportunities to cross the ball.
It’s important to stress that Tanganga has missed being a part of the squad this season due to some persistent hamstring injuries, this may have hampered his progress slightly as Mourinho may well have intended to feature him more regularly in the Premier league and Europe had it not been for these injury problems. As a player Tanganga is a precious asset as he offers Tottenham a so far sound and consistent option in quite possibly their weakest position. Doherty is poor going forward in a back 4 ( Which is what is favoured in Mourinho’s strongest Spurs XI) and has struggled defensively too, while Aurier is often good going forward but, although he has improved slightly in this area under Mourinho, is always hit and miss defensively particularly when it comes to maintain concentration positionally and defending 1v1. Tanganga has to play more because he could offer spurs the perfect balance that they are craving at right-back, he’s showed countless times that he’s sound defensively and only more experience and game time will show whether he’ll offer enough going forward, however his cup performance against Middlesbrough last year is a good starting point to indicate that he has it in him. Dependent on the personnel used Tanganga may also not even need to add more offensive contributions to his game, in a situation where Gareth Bale starts, Tanganga would simply need to offer cover which suits his game and similarly Tanganga’s defensive solidity could also free up potential for promising yet in more recent times elusive winger , Steven Bergwijn to start on the right, but in a role where he could finally be given more freedom attacking wise and more of a license to stay in the opponents half- due to the cover Tanganga would supply behind him.
The Statistics to support Tanganga’s ability
Having only featured 10 times this season and playing under 500 minutes this season there is a small sample to go off, in terms of making a case for Tanganga’s talents but nonetheless there are still enough numbers to really support claims that Tanganga should be playing more for Spurs. Matt Doherty has made 22 appearances in Europe and the premier league for spurs while Serge Aurier has made 18. Seeing as Tanganga has only made a total of 21 career appearances so far it’s only fair to compare Tanganga’s performances from the past 2 seasons to the current performances of Aurier and Doherty. Firstly, in comparison to £15 million summer signing Doherty, Tanganga has tackled 21 players in the premier league from his 9 appearances, with 17 of these attempts being successful. From his 15 premier league appearances this season Doherty has only won possession back 6 times from attempted tackles on 18 different players. Tanganga has been dribbled past 10 times in the premier league in his career so far but has a respectable 47% of dribblers tackled, while Doherty this season has been dribbled past almost double the amount of times (19) and has only tackled dribblers attempting to go past him 34.5% of the time, furthermore when looking at the combination of players tackled plus interceptions in both players times at Tottenham in the Premier League, both players have 32 players tackles and interceptions which is impressive considering Tanganga has played against Manchester City in an unfamiliar position, started against a phenomenal Liverpool side , has made less appearances in senior football in his entire career than Doherty has this season, and has 7 years less experience than Doherty in his position, yet matches/ betters him in terms of some of these key defensive actions.
Additionally, if we compare Tanganga’s overall Premier League appearances to Aurier’s this season, Aurier is predictably better going forward, but Tanganga has been dribbled past 11 less times and has a superior number of dribblers tackled. Tanganga has made more blocks and has only made 3 less clearances in considerably less minutes, Aurier has also made 2 errors leading to opposition shots compared to Tanganga’s 1. Finally, Tanganga has also won 65% of his aerial duels compared to Aurier’s 53%, and he has committed 11 fouls in his career compared to 19 by Aurier this season alone.
It may seem like the data is a bit unrepresentative and skewed comparing just 10 Premier League appearances from Tanganga to considerably more games from Doherty and Aurier ( which in turn allows for more errors to inevitably be made from them), however in his limited Premier League appearances so far it is so evident that Tanganga is a much more competent defender than Aurier and Doherty despite being so young and missing international and champions league experience which Doherty and Aurier possess.
Having started as a centre-back England youth international Tanganga appears to have the defensive backbone down the right that Spurs have sorely been missing for some time. With his injury niggles hopefully behind him, If Tanganga keeps up his solid performances at the back and has the chance to polish his play going forward and in possession from now to the end of the season, then he’ll finally get his shot at being a starter for Mourinho. If game time is granted to him then finally, he will have a true extended chance to cement himself as a first team player and really kick on as a reliable full-back. His talent isn’t in doubt and is clear to see, he just needs to be given the opportunities now.
Sources- Fbref.com, Soccerbase.com, Whoscored.com
Written by- Joe Langlands
LinkedIn- Joe Langlands