Player Analysis: Japhet Tanganga – A Reminder for Hope by Lee Chun Hang
All Hope Seems Lost
All summer long, Manchester City were relentless in their approach for Kane, constantly pestering Levy for the striker. The incessant offers were met with firm rejections as Levy was determined to not give in. Nevertheless, Kane’s absence from training looked to be the final nail in the coffin. It seemed like it was a matter of time for the walls to break, and the departure of the England captain to the North of Manchester was imminent.
Having Tottenham’s first game against Manchester City only drew more attention towards the transfer. For weeks, news surrounding Spurs was not about Nuno’s first Premier League game as Tottenham manager, but the Kane debacle. Everybody (myself included) had written Spurs’ season off, without their talisman, many feared an onslaught incoming to start the campaign.
“Whatever happens, we’ll give it absolutely everything.” Reads the caption of a post prior to Spurs’ opening game against the title defenders. The posts included a picture that sees 3 of Tottenham’s key men following Nuno out the pitch. What also captured audiences’ attention, is the exclusion of Harry Kane.
At that point, it seemed like the battle was already lost, even before the ball was kicked. What was thought to be an uplifting post, exuded an air of defeat that dampened the morale of many. There was an acceptance to losing – losing the 3 points and losing their best player.
Despite the scrutiny and unjust criticism, Spurs fought hard, ringing true to the post made earlier, “we’ll give absolutely everything”. A particular standout from the game was another academy product in Japhet Tanganga, who was only making his 14 th Premier League appearance. Tanganga neutralized City’s left flank, impeding the direct threat of Sterling while dealing with Grealish’s slick hair gel with ease.
Upon the 22-year-old’s substitution in the 83 rd minute of the game, he was serenated by three sides of the stadium, as fans stood to commend his man-of-the-match display. In a moment where Tottenham looked lost in the void of uncertainty, Tanganga’s grit and strength shone brightly, giving them hope. It inspired a brilliant victory against all odds.
Tottenham’s month only got better following wins against Wolves and Watford, with Tanganga playing a massive role in keeping clean sheets on both occasions. Off the pitch saw even more reason for optimism, as Harry Kane’s departure fell through, coupled with an end to a brilliant transfer window which sees them welcome 5 signings.
The dashboard below shows why Tanganga is highly regarded by many supporters this season. This analysis will cover the Englishman’s performance with his club last season. All figures below are based on performance per 90 minutes played, according to StatsBomb via FBref.
The Marauding Fullback
“He can play centre-back, but for me in the context of what high level football is and especially Premier League is, I see him more as a multi-functional defensive player, but I see him more as a full-back.”
– Jose Mourinho
Perhaps the only glitter from the damp era of Mourinho, came in the form of Japhet Tanganga. The Portuguese manager identified his talents from the start and sees him as a fullback with massive potential. In fact, Tanganga’s debut in the Premier League was against Liverpool’s fearsome front three. Considering the magnitude of the game, Mourinho’s decision to select an inexperienced center-back playing in a new position, is in itself an acknowledgement of Tanganga’s ability and vast potential.
Nuno has now inherited the squad and has placed the same faith in the youngster at right-back, as did his predecessor. Though there is a change in system and formation with Spurs, the former Wolves coach remains adamant of having marauding fullbacks to supply the width. This season, Tanganga is seen to provide just that, with overlapping runs to the bylines.
When Tanganga ventures forwards, Nuno has one of his defensive midfielders to drop into the defence to make a back 3. This ensures the space Tanganga leaves behind is not exploited as there is always a cover in place. Normally, Højbjerg would slot into the right side of the back 3 progressing the ball, but this is interchangeable between him and Davinson Sanchez.
Tanganga’s aggressive playstyle has certainly resonated with the Tottenham faithful, as seen in his performance against City. Every crunching tackle was met with loud cheers from the home support, with Tanganga reciprocating the love with even more tackles. Despite standing at only 6ft tall, the fullback is bulky and strong, which complements his aggressive nature as a defender, making him an imposing figure at right-back. This is aligned with what the stats tell us.
According to the graph above, Tanganga is on the upper-left quartile of the graph, which shows that he is a defender who impedes opposition more often than protecting the space. He is an active defender who regularly disrupts plays by stepping out to engage his markers. In fact, Reguilon is another defender placed in the same category, perhaps detailing the preference for aggressive fullbacks Nuno wants in his team. So far this season, Tanganga is amongst the league’s more aggressive defenders with 8.62 Tackles + Interceptions + Successful Pressures per90. To put it in context, Tanganga has been more active and successful in his challenges than Aaron Wan-Bissaka (3.34 per90) or Kieran Tierney (3.33 per90) this season.
Tanganga’s use of aggression while defending is useful to turnover possession in the attacking third. As illustrated against Watford when a ball is played through to Kucka on the flank. Tanganga (originally out of the screen) sensed the opportunity and pressed him immediately, winning the ball and progressing forwards.
His desire to win back possession as soon as possible can be detrimental at times, when dealing with footballers with higher technical abilities. In the same game against Watford, Dennis receives the ball with his back to goal by the touchline, which gave Tanganga the perfect opportunity to step out of position to press him. Dennis instead flicks the ball through Tanganga’s legs who has come too close, leaving the space he vacated open for Watford to exploit.
Right Place, Right Time
This is not to say Tanganga is incapable of protecting the spaces in behind as he is definitely well versed in blocking shots and clearing dangers too. Tanganga has accumulated 13.1 Blocks + Clearances + Recoveries since the start of the season. These stats are more likely to be dominated by central defenders due to their role as the last line of defence, hence a more conservative role is desired. Tanganga’s high numbers in these areas suggest a player with a great sense of danger being played in behind and knows where to stop it.
Being a defensive minded player, Tanganga’s use out of possession is certainly valuable. The defender is seemingly at the right place, at the right time everywhere with countless interventions on the pitch (more prominently in the penalty area). According to his defensive actions map, Tanganga has been vital for Spurs in their own penalty area with countless clearances and blocks. This does make him a brilliant player to have around despite his offensive limitations (which we will talk about later).
His contribution inside his own penalty box is brave, to say the least. He isn’t afraid to put his body on the line if it meant denying an opportunity at goal. Contributions such as throwing his body in the way of goal bound shots, are deeply appreciated by Spurs supporters.
As mentioned previously, Nuno’s demands of his fullbacks are to provide the width and supply crosses into the box. Tanganga has conjured up a number of opportunities from his overlapping runs towards goal in countless occasions. This season, Tanganga has accumulated 0.15 Expected Assists and 1.37 Passes & Crosses into the Penalty Area per90. On the opposite flank, Reguilon has more passes & Crosses into the Penalty Area (1.66) but accumulated less Expected Assists per90 (0.03).
Seeing both the player’s passes into the penalty area so far this season, we can note that Tanganga makes more dangerous passes inside the box via cutbacks, which could explain the higher expected assist value. The distance of his area in which the passes were made is also relatively near the penalty area, indicating frequent overlapping runs towards goal. Reguilon, supplies more direct crosses from the left flank.
Despite only playing 3 games in the season, Tanganga should have already claimed 2 assists from his passes inside the box. Both cases were denied due to miscommunication (vs City) and last ditched defending (vs Watford). Perhaps Tanganga is unlucky that his passes weren’t met by the laces of Harry Kane, but you sense that his assists numbers might increase as the season continues, especially if he continues making these runs into the box.
Perhaps a criticism of Tanganga is that he isn’t as comfortable a ball carrier than other more dynamic fullbacks in the league. When facing oppositions who sit deep, you would prefer to have a more attack minded fullback, capable of carrying the ball from one end to another. So far this season, Tanganga has only attempted 2 take-ons, and completed his only one just at the half-way point. The fullback has accumulated 1.03 Progressive Carries and 0.34 Successful Dribbles per90 thus far.
His hesitancy to carry the ball forward is (worryingly) present in the game against Watford on their baptism to the Premier League. As Tanganga receives the ball at his defensive third, there is space to carry the ball forwards, but he declined the invitation for a pass back to Højbjerg. Against teams who sit on the low block, perhaps a more dynamic option is more viable than the more conservative Tanganga.
Decision making can also be a flaw of his going forward, as he is sometimes caught in two minds. That said, the defender is still learning on the job, playing in unfamiliar territories. His decisions in the attacking third will only improve with experience and improvements from last season is already prevalent under Nuno.
That option seems to be in the form of Emerson Royal. The Brazilian impressed in his time in Spain and is definitely the more dynamic option going forward. The fullback accumulated 5.24 Progressive Carries and 0.69 Successful Dribbles per90. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen if he could replicate those numbers in a more demanding league.
As for now, Tanganga deserves his place in Tottenham’s 11, simply because of the immense performances in the league so far. The 22-year-old is slowly becoming a fan favourite for the Lilywhites, and the chemistry will only continue to blossom. This is important when you consider the scrutiny and conflict caused by another academy product.