What Doherty will bring to Tottenham and how he compares to Aurier
By Charlie Eccleshare and Tom Worville 1h ago
To get a sense of the kind of player Tottenham Hotspur are signing in Matt Doherty, his goal against Manchester City in December is a good starting point. The 89th-minute winner neatly showcases many of Doherty’s attacking attributes and illustrates why over the last two seasons Doherty has scored 15 club goals in all competitions — more than any other Premier League defender.
There’s the isolating of the opposition full-back thanks, in part, to Adama Traore moving infield, the link-up with Raul Jimenez, and then the composed finish. These have all been staples of Doherty’s game during the last couple of years.
Traore drags a defender away to create space for Doherty
Doherty receives the ball out wide and heads for goal
He exchanges passes with Jimenez
And fires a shot past Claudio Bravo from the edge of the box
Unusually for a wing-back or full-back, Spurs are signing more of a finisher than a creator. Doherty is more than capable of setting up his team-mates — he registered a creditable three assists in the Premier League last season and five the season before — but that is not what sets him apart.
In fact in that regard, he was inferior in the Premier League last season to the man he will be replacing or competing with: Serge Aurier. However, as we will see below, Doherty can bring other attributes that Aurier may not possess.
In general, Doherty’s arrival heralds the latest shift in Spurs’ attempts to solve what has become a problem position in the last few years. After Kyle Walker’s departure in 2017, Kieran Tripper suffered an alarming dip in the 2018-19 season as defensive errors started to creep into his game. Aurier took up the mantle following Trippier’s departure to Atletico Madrid last summer but did not fully convince.
So now it’s down to the 28-year-old Doherty, signed for around £14 million from Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday. How does he differ from Aurier, and will he prove to be a better fit?
As the below images show, both Doherty and Aurier like to attack down the right flank. And though the former was positioned as a wing-back and the latter nominally a full-back last season, Jose Mourinho’s lopsided full-backs system essentially meant Aurier was playing as a wing-back when the team had the ball. Doherty is expected to fulfil a similar role this season.
A heat map of Aurier’s touches in the Premier League last season (TruMedia/Opta)
A heat map of Doherty’s touches in the Premier League last season (TruMedia/Opta)
The images show that Aurier looks to get the ball within the width of the box out wide, whereas Doherty is either deeper or actually in the box himself. This ties in with what that City goal demonstrated, namely that two of Doherty’s biggest strengths are his ability to link up with attackers and get on the end of things.
His winner against Crystal Palace in October 2018 is another good example of this, and there’s every reason to think he can combine similarly well with Harry Kane in the coming years.
Doherty finds space on the right
Again, he exchanges passes with Jimenez
And again his finish is clinical
For a player who is nominally a wing-back, Doherty is a remarkable penalty-box poacher. This is a consequence of his goalscoring instincts remaining strong from his early days as a centre-forward and also a numbers game — if you keep charging into the box, eventually one or two chances will fall your way.
Doherty’s main role at Wolves from an attacking sense was to make back-post runs, and if we look at matches when he played in his preferred wing-back role (to remove the odd game where he played in less attacking positions, such as centre-back), he posted 1.1 shots per 90 minutes last season compared with Aurier’s 0.4 from right-back.
Doherty subsequently ended up with an expected goals (xG) figure of 0.22 per 90 from those matches, which was miles ahead of Aurier’s 0.02. And to put that into context, two of Spurs’ attackers in Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela were only just above that, with an xG of 0.23 per 90 last season. In total, the quality of Doherty’s chances last season left him with an xG of 6.9 — an exceptionally high number, and more than two goals higher than the closest Premier League defender.
His last goal for Wolves, which coincidentally came against Spurs in March, is a good example of why so many chances fall his way. Doherty followed the play from the opposite flank, sprinted into the box, and was able to lash home a loose ball with his left foot. Over on the opposite flank, Aurier had been exposed by a quick one-two (though he did score an outstanding goal later in the half).
Aurier is caught out by a one-two down the Wolves left
On the opposite flank, Doherty senses a chance
Moments later, the ball drops his way for an easy finish
Interestingly, despite being right-footed, four of Doherty’s seven goals last season were scored with his left, a legacy perhaps of the very successful period he had playing as a left-back for Wolves. Two of the others were with his head (more on his proficiency in that area later), and he also scored a headed goal for Ireland.
He ended the season with more goals than the outstanding Traore, and it was the offensive side of his game that improved most under manager Nuno Espirito Santo.
Doherty’s goalscoring ability would be an asset to any team, but it will be interesting to see whether he will be given the same role at Spurs or asked to be more of a creator.
Though it might pain some Spurs fans to read it, Aurier was one of the team’s main creative outlets last season — and in pretty much every metric, his creative numbers were better than Doherty’s.
As well as more assists (five to three in the Premier League), looking at matches where they both played in their preferred positions of right-back and right wing-back respectively, Aurier’s numbers were higher. As well as a greater number of expected assists (0.11 per 90 minutes to 0.07) and chances created (1.1 per 90 to 0.7), Aurier also put in far more crosses (4.6 per 90 in open play compared to 1.5), and thus unsurprisingly created more chances from crosses (0.47 per 90 to 0.14). Spurs forwards trying to attack Aurier crosses was a common sight last season — and in the second episode of the Amazon Prime documentary All or Nothing, during half-time of November’s win over Olympiakos, Mourinho explicitly tells left-sided forward Son Heung-min to get into the box when Aurier has the ball on the right.
So, will Doherty be tasked with taking on Aurier’s role of crossing from the right, or will he be charging into the box to latch onto crosses from the left?
Should he be asked to take on more of a crossing role than he did at Wolves, it’s worth noting that in games when they were each playing in their preferred positions, Doherty’s successful crosses from open play figure of 15.9 per cent was higher than Aurier’s 14.7 last season. This will be reassuring to those supporters who despaired at Aurier’s often hit-and-miss crossing.
Neither player’s figure is especially high looking at the league as a whole, but crossing success should be taken with a pinch of salt given the number of variables involved — such as where a player is crossing from and the quality of players he’s crossing to.
More encouraging is the fact that Doherty is capable of producing outstanding crosses, as illustrated by his assist for Pedro Neto’s goal against West Ham United in June.
Doherty digs out a cross from the right
Neto smashes it in on the volley
Typically though, Doherty likes to play low crosses (like below) and threaded passes, or attempt one-twos with his attackers (as we saw in the Manchester City and Crystal Palace examples).
On this occasion, Doherty plays a disguised low cross to the edge of the box
Where the arriving Moutinho sends a shot wide
Doherty’s half-volleyed assist for Daniel Podence against Crystal Palace in July followed some good link-up play similar to the goal he scored against Roy Hodgson’s side two years ago. Given what he’s done to Palace in the past couples of seasons, you fancy the left side of their defence might come up with some sort of plan to stop Doherty when they host Spurs in December.
After exchanging passes with Moutinho, Doherty gives Podence a chance he can’t miss with a half-volleyed cross
As well as offensively, Spurs are hoping that Doherty will be an upgrade defensively on Aurier, who has been — sometimes unfairly — characterised as an accident waiting to happen. Aurier has always been capable of individual errors and rash mistakes, but last season his decision-making improved, even if Mourinho was shown singling him out as being prone to giving away penalties in the All or Nothing documentary.
In any case, comparing defenders based on their statistics is not always especially helpful — often telling us more about a player or team’s style than effectiveness. Looking at games in their preferred full-back and wing-back positions, Aurier made a lot more tackles and interceptions than Doherty last season (3.1 and 1.6 per 90 compared with 1.8 and 1.2) but that is partly down to how little Wolves pressed as a team. Doherty’s advanced wing-back role also meant he was tasked with less defending than a full-back, even one playing as advanced as Aurier.
More illustrative, if we obey Tom Worville’s 10 commandments of analytics, is to look at true tackles (tackles plus challenges lost plus fouls conceded) and interceptions adjusted for every 1,000 touches taken by the opposition to remove the variable of how much possession a team has. Even with these adjustments, Aurier is the more active defender, with 7.7 true tackles and 2.4 interceptions per 1,000 opposition touches compared to Doherty’s 3.8 and 1.8. Whether this makes Aurier more effective as a defender as well as more active depends partially on how a manager wants his team to defend.
What we can say is that while Doherty is not as quick as Aurier, his extra height (6ft 1in compared with 5ft 8in) and heading ability adds another dimension to what he offers defensively. These attributes were part of the reason he was more attractive to Mourinho than the relatively lightweight Max Aarons of Norwich (a Mauricio Pochettino target last summer).
Doherty is outstanding in the air and was frequently used by Wolves goalkeeper Rui Patricio as an outlet from goal kicks — as the below graphic illustrates.
Against Olympiakos last month, there was a passage in the first half when Patricio launched four goal kicks Doherty’s way in quick succession. The last of these saw Doherty win the header and link up once again with Traore, as illustrated below.
Doherty wins a header and looks for Traore
Traore can then lay the ball off to Jimenez
It was a similar story in Wolves’ next game against Sevilla when, almost straight from kick-off, midfielder Ruben Neves launched a booming crossfield pass towards Doherty. Again he won the duel and cushioned the ball to Traore.
Neves looks for the diagonal to Doherty
Doherty wins the header and finds Traore
Overall, Doherty contested seven aerial duels per game last season when playing as a wing-back and won 58 per cent of those (compared with 4.4 and 52.7 for Aurier). And that ping out wide to Doherty also became the staple of centre-back Conor Coady — something you would expect the similarly good passer Toby Alderweireld to try to replicate.
Doherty’s ability to find space on the right made him a frequent target for Coady
As well as creating space on the right, Doherty can use his aerial ability to good effect when defending set-pieces — illustrated by the below example against Sevilla.
Doherty wins an important back-post header at a corner against Sevilla
And being able to defend as well as attack is something Doherty prides himself on. “I attack both posts. I’m able to get into the box, score at one end, and I can defend the back post at the other end,” he said on Sunday upon signing for Tottenham.
In the Sevilla match, Doherty showed that ability to get into his own box and defend the back post on a few occasions (including below when he ended up actually winning a free kick for his team).
Sensing the danger, Doherty races back towards his own goal
And in getting to the ball first draws a foul and averts the danger
If he’s asked to play a slightly more withdrawn role this season, then Doherty’s ability to defend the back post will be even more important. Especially under a manager who demands that kind of positional awareness from his defenders — even ones who score dramatic late winners against the defending Premier League champions.
And perhaps that is what will determine how big a success Doherty is at Tottenham — the extent to which he can match moments of outstanding attacking play with taking care of his more mundane defensive duties.
Because doing the former without the latter will quickly incur the wrath of the club’s supporters.
Just ask the man he’s replacing.