Over the past few years, Tottenham Hotspur have been desperate for a squad refresh. With Antonio Conte the fourth permanent manager since November 2019, it feels Spurs’ overall roster and squad building has fallen by the wayside as they have pivoted to meet the demands of their various managers. With the appointment of Fabio Paratici as Managing Director of Football last summer, Spurs finally started addressing this issue by shifting on some of the “deadwood” many Spurs supporters had been talking.
While things started out rocky and the season looked lost under Nuno Espírito Santo, things quickly changed for the better once Antonio Conte arrived. Since Conte’s arrival, only Manchester City and Liverpool have more league points than Conte’s Lilywhites. Under Conte, Spurs quickly shifted to a back three formation in defense, and Conte became reliant on two players that were once identified in that “deadwood” group — Eric Dier and Ben Davies.
Since Spurs crashed out of Europe and the domestic cups, Conte’s starting XI has featured mostly the same faces. That’s most obvious in defense — the Italian has consistently chosen Davies, Dier and Cristian Romero to man the back three. Of those three positions, the least demanding is the role central CB, a role that Dier has excelled at due to having more cover and being the “spare-man” against opposing presses. But while Dier has truly been a “steady Eddie” and his form has certainly taken a step up under Conte, it is Davies who has arguably had the more impressive season given his transition from a traditional fullback to that of a left-sided centerback.
Exposed over the years for his lack of pace and his inability to win individual duels with consistency on the left flank, Davies had been a player fans have been wanted to be moved for quite some time. After all, his performances had been nothing special for years despite playing for different managers and it seemed like it was time to move him on. But while Davies has been with the club since the summer of 2014, you can argue he has not had a better spell of form for Spurs than this season.
His transition to LCB has allowed Davies to play much more to his strengths while also having more players near and around him to provide cover. After all, the left-sided centerback role is the same position he has played for Wales for quite some time. When you look at the player playing across from Davies on the other side of the defense, Romero seems like a superhuman in defense — a true “dog” of a defender who excels in individual duels, plays with a tremendous amount of tenacity and leaves his marks on opposing attackers. Davies is much more of a “cat”. While he does not have the athleticism nor strength to win outside of position, he understands spacing well and does the little things that have been asked of him. In more recent weeks, when Spurs have been winning games and trying to see out results, we have also seen Davies play as a more defensive left wingback role, giving way for another traditional centerback, such as Davinson Sánchez.
Sure, there are deficiencies within Davies’ game. For starters, he is not the tallest defender and while Spurs have improved recently in defending set-pieces, his lack of height can be exposed in aerial duels. While Dier and Romero are both 6’1” or above, Davies is just 5’11”. He is also not the most powerful or physically imposing defender and has the odd mistake in him, most recently seen against Leicester City when he gave the ball away in a dangerous position. He’s also the oldest player in the back line at 29.
But while Conte is apparently looking to replace Davies in the starting XI with a younger and more talented defender, that should not be viewed as a knock on how well he’s played or how he fits into the squad. In fact, Davies is certainly a player that many Spurs supporters would be keen on keeping around next season, with the club at the very least qualified for the Europa League and with a chance to qualify in the Champions League†
It has been reported that Spurs are interested in bringing in a new left-sided centerback. Rumors swirled that Spurs were interested in Nico Schlotterbeck before his move to Dortmund, but they have also been in on Leipzig’s Joško Gvardiol and Villarreal‘s Pau Torres. With Europe and the domestic cups, there is a chance that Spurs could play nearly 60 games in the 2022-23 season. And, that’s not counting the World Cup which will impact many of Spurs’ current and future players next season.
Regardless of if he is replaced in the starting XI over the summer, Davies is a player that Conte can rely upon. The expression of reliance is something we have continuously heard from Conte when you think about the club’s decision-making with players like Davies and Dier to Dele Alli and even Tanguy Ndombele. Despite Conte chopping and changing some of his options in his preferred 3-4-3 shape during his tenure, Davies has consistently and expectedly been a mainstay in the side.
In just a matter of months, Davies has gone from being on the periphery of the squad to being a reliable player who is a good fit under Conte. When Conte was first appointed, we discussed that one of his coaching hallmarks is assessing traits that each of his players do well and putting a side together that emphasizes those strengths. The expectation is that, while Davies may not be a starter next season as Spurs look to spend this summer, he will and deserves to be a valuable squad piece next season due to his familiarity with the back three as well as his flexibility. That makes him incredible depth.
Davies is one of Spurs’ higher wage earners and he is signed through the end of the 2024 season. And while Davies is not the sexiest name or is as impressive as his partner Romero, his value has been immense for Spurs since Conte arrived. He is now a player that Spurs should certainly keep.
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