Tottenham in recent years have produced some fine young talents, either from their academy or buying teenagers for brilliant deals. The Pochettino era saw the likes of Harry Kane, Dele All, Harry Winks breaking into the first team and playing an important role during his stint with the club. Going further back, this tradition seemed to have been there with them producing gems in the form of Gareth Bale, who was sold later for a world-record fee.
Next on that list seems to be one of their own, Oliver Skipp. Skipp was loaned to Norwich City for the 2020-21 season as the Spurs management felt the Championship experience would be the best thing for his development. This scout report will contain tactical analysis as to how he plays an important role in Daniel Farke’s tactics. Let’s begin the analysis.
Positioning on the pitch
Daniel Farke uses a 4-2-3-1 system and it has been his preferred formation during his time at Norwich City. The peculiarity of his system is that he uses narrow wingers and mostly the width is provided by the full-backs in his system. So when the full-backs go forward the defensive responsibility of protecting the centre-backs fall on the defensive midfielders in the double pivot. Skipp starts as the right-sided defensive midfielder for Norwich and that can be seen in his action map for the current season. He has started at the RDMF position in 65% of the matches and 15% at the slightly advanced RCMF position.
Occasionally, during matches or in some situations he has also played as a left-sided pivot. But this has been very rare and Farke has consistently deployed him on the right side. This is to provide him with the natural angles to play the ball out to when Norwich decide to build out from the back.
The primary job of a defensive midfielder in any system is to provide some protection to the back-4. Skipp does the same in this system where he sits in front of the back-4 and shields them. His defensive statistics read 7.98 successful defensive actions per game, 6.34 defensive duels per game with an accuracy of 55.09%, 6.47 interceptions per game (possession adjusted) and contests 4.49 aerial duels while winning roughly 49.6% of them. The numbers show that he is an active defender and pretty good at it. Further analyzing him through an eye-test gives us information on how valuable he is to Norwich’s defensive side.
His main job is to protect the right half-space in the Norwich half. This means that he is more concerned about protecting the zone around him and not marking any player. Only if a player enters his zone he engages with him and looks to recover the ball. We can see an example of this in the image below.
This particular role of protecting the zone requires very good awareness and decision making. Those are some of the attributes that midfielders only gain with experience but Skipp at a very young age has already acquired. In the example below, we can see him having an awareness of a player looking to underlap behind and he immediately points to one of his teammates to track him as he is giving an additional layer of protection to Max Aarons who has engaged in a duel with a Birmingham City winger. This is an important quality for a player that cannot be explained by a statistic but is very much valuable.
The role of a defensive midfielder is often misunderstood in the footballing world. Most of them expect the midfielders to tackle the player having the ball, winning duels or press them high and perform slide tackles on them. Though these attributes can be expected from them, their primary objective is to stop the flow of the ball into the final third. Instead of engaging in duels immediately that forces a player to leave his zone, a player can adjust his positioning a little bit so that he can cover his zone while also blocking the passing lane to an opponent. This requires minimal effort and energy with just an additional awareness of the surroundings. Skipp prioritizes the latter and maintains his position and cover shadow exceptionally well in a lot of situations. That can be seen in the below image, where he scans and finds an opponent right behind him. He immediately adjusts his position to block the lane using his cover shadow. He knows that leaving a stable zone (one he is currently present) to an unstable one (one he might not have complete control over) is highly riskier, and if he fails to get to the player quickly, the opponent can access the player right behind him in a perfect area with a small one-two while he is left in no man’s land. Also, had he not closed the lane by not moving across that would make his occupation of the current zone futile.
Looking at his on the ball defensive capability, he shows a very good ability to retrieve the ball back from the opponent and performs decently when it comes to duels. We can see the graph below that depicts the U-23 midfielders in the Championship plotted based on their defensive actions. Skipp seems to be better than an average youngster in interceptions as well as sliding tackles. The reason the metrics are possession adjusted is that Norwich is among the most dominant teams in the league with respect to possession. This reduces their players’ frequency in performing such actions.
An example of him tackling the opponent is given below. Initially, Skipp makes the right decision by staying in his zone. He anticipates the player who has received the ball to enter his zone. Now this gives him the time to set himself in the right posture and improve his balance before he attempts at winning the ball back. He makes the challenge at the right time and wins the ball back.
In another example, we can see his decision-making ability in terms of identifying the right time to make a challenge. This particular challenge was especially during a transition where Norwich had just lost the ball. When the Coventry City player has the ball, he initially retreats a yard back to read his movement while having an optimal body position (facing the winger at a 45-degree angle). When the winger cuts inside and has changed his direction, Skipp identifies the right moment to intervene because the winger might have reduced momentum during such action. This enables Skipp to get the ball back again from the opponent.
Standing at 175 cm, he is not expected to win a lot of aerial duels but still does decently for a young midfielder in that regard winning at an above-average league rate. The graph below highlights that while also showing he falls below the league average in winning defensive duels. Despite showing such astute decision making in many situations, Skipp like some players in his age group is also prone to poor decision making at times. He can be extremely over aggressive during some duels that make him lose at times. He attempts a huge amount of defensive actions, and for such a large sample, this efficiency (55%) could be tolerated, but if he needs to go to the next level especially starting the week in and week out in the Premier League, he needs to iron out these small changes.
In the example below, Norwich has lost possession of the ball and Skipp being the right-sided midfielder is already away from his position. Instead of dropping into his position, he tries to duel with the Birmingham City player. Due to such close proximity, he cannot win the duel with an unusual body posture. Additionally, the player passes the ball to his teammate who takes a shot from the position where Skipp should have dropped.
In another example below, we can see him again not staying in his zone or close to the player in his zone. When the ball is played to that opposite player, Skipp needs to make a recovery run to the back of his player. Though he does well in recovering the ball, he shouldn’t have put himself in that position in the first place.
Role during possession phases
As a defensive midfielder, Skipp’s initial role in possession is to help his backline from building out from the back. Mostly, Norwich look to build out from the back depending on their opponent’s front line. If the opponent presses with a single forward, then the two centre-backs are enough to create a superiority against him and Skipp plays slightly higher. We can see that in the example below, where Skipp moves higher since the opposition are using only one forward to press the centre-backs and an additional body is not needed for an existing superiority.
Whereas in cases when they press with 2 forwards, then Skipp would be the midfielder to drop among the two in the pivot to create a 3v2 overload. It can either be in between the two centre-backs or as a right-sided 3rd centre-back. An example of that can be seen in the below image where the opposition now pressurize with a 2-man front line so Skipp is needed for an additional presence for superiority.
One of Skipp’s other important qualities is his ability to scan the surroundings before he makes his next move. This particular action can be seen in most of the top midfielders in the world as they always look to see spaces, players or the ball to get a clear cut idea of what feasible action can be done. We have discussed his excellent defensive awareness during the defensive phase, this too comes with his ability to scan his surroundings to get a preview of what spaces the opposition might attack. Even during the possession, the ability to scan spaces plays a huge role but it also helps the player to ask for a ball when he notices that there isn’t a player looking to press him. We can see Skipp in the image below scanning around to see potential passing options and also noticing no player is about to press him. He comes into space and requests his teammate for the ball to be played to him.
The plot below compares him with that of the other midfielders in the league based on his passing as well as his creative abilities. From the plot, we can see he is a high volume passer and attempts a good share of his team’s total passes per match. As a defensive midfielder, the primary job of his is to move the ball to the final third. He averages 6.72 passes into the final third every game, which is a very good volume and it is way above the league average. The accuracy is also pretty impressive standing at 75.6%. His passes into the penalty area are low which means he is not much involved in the final phase and players like Emi Buendia and Cantwell are given the responsibility to do it.
Also, another insight that we can see from the above graphic is that he has a very low forward pass ratio. His average pass length is also somewhere around the league average. This means that most of his passes are either sideways or backwards. This particular information tells us that he is much more of a ball retainer and looks to keep the possession secure. The left part of the image given below tells us the regions where he receives most of the passes (yellow regions are higher, violet regions are lower) while the one in right shows the end location of his passes. He has received most of his passes in the right-half space while some of them centrally. Most of his passes have ended up at the right-wing (closest flank), especially to the full-back on that side. This tells us that his role under possession is much more about security and retaining the ball in the middle third.
Even though he is mostly reserved in possession, he is capable of being progressive on the ball. He attempts 7.41 progressive passes per game but has completed 73.47% of them, which is a very good accuracy. An example of him switching the ball to the opposite flank to find Max Aarons is given below.
Technically, he is very good with his first touch and weight of pass. This holds good even with his weaker foot. Though he doesn’t use his weaker foot very often, he does seem to be comfortable in situations where he has to use it. One example of this is we can find him in the flank and he plays a brilliant cut-back to one of his teammates for a shot assist.
Even during the possession, there are some small things that he needs to furnish before stepping out to the next level. If not the best at press resistance, Skipp is pretty much decent in that aspect and does well to evade pressures. But at times, he chooses the wrong instances to skip past the opposition where he should have passed. This decision-making ability will eventually come up with the experience and for that, he needs a consistent run of games against some top-flight teams.
Potential role at Spurs
At Spurs, we can expect him to straightly slot into the right-sided defensive midfield position. During the first half of the season, Mourinho had Hojbjerg playing on the left side and Sissoko or Winks slotting on the right side. But since both Sissoko and Winks aren’t too comfortable in possession, the entire responsibility of progressing the ball fell on Hojbjerg. This has greatly helped the opposition to press Spurs and restrict them from creating dangers and Mourinho had to drop Ndombele to a deeper role than his usual number 10 role to help Hojbjerg. With the absence of Lo Celso and Kane (for a brief spell), Spurs missed Ndombele’s presence higher up the pitch to create the opportunities.
Skipp can easily solve this crisis if it arrives next season where he can partner with Hojbjerg as a right-sided CDM, a role which he currently does for Norwich, while Hojbjerg can continue in the left side. Skipp’s presence will considerably reduce the responsibility of Hojbjerg with Skipp being much more superior on the ball when compared to Winks or Sissoko. Also, if Mourinho thinks Skipp cannot start straight away, he can deputize him to Hojbjerg to reduce the latter’s workload. Overall, the addition of Skipp to Mourinho’s plans next season will be a huge victory for the team. His talent could be very important in allowing Mourinho and the board to address issues concerning other departments in the transfer market.
Spurs fans have already been buzzing about Skipp with the 20-year old putting an impressive shift for the Championship contenders this season. Norwich would be keen to extend his loan if they get promoted to the top flight next season while the decision lies with Spurs who at this instance would be tempted to take him back. This scout report discussed the reasons why he has been highly rated by both clubs and with such progressive development, Skipp is certainly on the right track to having a great career.