A player's primary concern when a new manager comes in is how regularly he will feature. Mauricio Pochettino's appointment gave the Tottenham squad a chance to prove themselves at White Hart Lane, with some performing better than others, on the back of Tim Sherwood's sacking. The passionate boss isolated a number of first teamers and fans largely welcomed his exit.
A full pre-season allowed Pochettino to analyse every member of his new team and while a number of fan favourites fell by the wayside - Michael Dawson and Sandro, in particular, moving on to pastures new - one who has benefitted from the new managerial setup is Etienne Capoue. The Frenchman arrived from Toulouse last summer, somewhat surprisingly considering the midfield options available to then head coach André Villas-Boas. Prior to injury in the North London Derby at the Emirates Stadium last season, though, Capoue looked set to become an important member of the Spurs first team.
However, Nabil Bentaleb leapfrogged him in the pecking order after Sherwood's appointment, with Capoue's final appearance of last season coming in a 1-0 defeat at Norwich in February. Seemingly out of favour and linked with a return to France after a solitary season in England's capital, the 26-year-old has been given a new lease of life under Pochettino and has grabbed the opportunity to impress with both hands. Only captain Younes Kaboul and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris (540) have registered more league minutes this season than Capoue (526) of all Spurs players, with the midfielder now considered a key member of the squad.
Tasked with shielding the defence in a midfield pivot in Pochettino's favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, Capoue is excelling in perhaps one of the most important positions on the pitch. What makes his displays more impressive is that the Argentine is yet to find a regular midfield partner for the former Toulouse star. Capoue has started alongside Bentaleb, Mousa Dembélé and, most recently, Ryan Mason, but has not allowed the lack of consistency in the middle of the park to affect him.
Only Erik Lamela (7.30) and Eric Dier (7.26) have a better WhoScored rating than Capoue (7.14) of all Spurs players in the Premier League this season, reinforcing how well he has started the campaign. Supporters may have felt Capoue's first team action would be minimal despite a return to fitness, but the lack of World Cup action proved to be a blessing in disguise.
Paulinho, Dembélé and Bentaleb have all underwhelmed after returning to domestic duties, while Sandro clearly did not do enough to impress Pochettino. Links with Morgan Schneiderlin, coupled with the eventual signing of Benjamin Stambouli, could have seen Capoue's playing time lessen, but the form he has shown, reminiscent of his final season for Toulouse, has rendered him undroppable to date.
Only 4 players are averaging more passes per game than Capoue (78.3) in England's top tier this season, while only Cesc Fàbregas (133 vs Aston Villa) and Jordan Henderson (111 vs Aston Villa) have played more accurate passes in a single match this term than Capoue (110 vs QPR). Of all Spurs players to feature this term, only defender Vlad Chiriches (6) is averaging more tackles and interceptions per game than the French midfielder (5.83) and it's obvious what Capoue's role in the team is.
"I don't want someone who just sits in front of the back four and doesn't go anywhere, but that's just my personal view," former Spurs coach Les Ferdinand said back in January in a dig about the deployment of the holding midfielder. For a football team to succeed in modern football, however, a player who breaks up play and recycles possession efficiently is a necessity. Sherwood's Spurs may have opted against the use of a defensive midfielder, compromising the solidity of the team, but Pochettino is clearly in favour of them.
The Argentine used either Victor Wanyama or Jack Cork in a similar role for Saints last season, allowing Schneiderlin to push on and support the attack. Pochettino is yet to find the right partner for Capoue, but a player who can read the game as well as the former Toulouse star and use possession as effectively as him - Capoue has an impressive pass success (88.9%) this term - was always going to appeal to the Spurs boss.
In games such as Saturday's 1-1 draw with Arsenal, where Pochettino's side were unlikely to see much of the ball, someone to win possession in the defensive third was essential and Capoue did this superbly in the North London Derby. No player made more tackles (5), while only Kieran Gibbs (6) made more interceptions (5) in the encounter, in what was a highly efficient performance from the Spurs man. Unsurprisingly, only Lloris (7.63) earned a better WhoScored rating than Capoue (7.56) of all Tottenham players in the stalemate.
Of all outfielders in the Premier League this season, the Frenchman has played the most accurate long balls (52). He is the ideal player to match the high-pressing, counter-attacking system that Pochettino favours, with the midfielder able to pick out a teammate from distance. When factoring in that Spurs play more compact, with the attacking-midfield trio of Lamela, Christian Eriksen and Nacer Chadli all preferring to cut inside when on the ball, Capoue's influence becomes more pertinent.
Pochettino prefers his full-backs to overlap and stretch the opposition and with Capoue's excellent distribution, the team can swiftly transition from defence to attack. The high number of accurate long balls highlights how the midfielder receives the ball in the defensive third and can spot the run of either Dier, Kyle Naughton, Ben Davies or Danny Rose on either flank.
After being linked with a move to Napoli in January, followed by a potential return to France over the summer, Capoue is establishing himself as a first team regular at White Hart Lane this term. Pochettino has placed a lot of faith in the midfielder and now fans are seeing the best of the 26-year-old as he shines in front of the back four and if Spurs are to enjoy some long-awaited success this season; Capoue may play a crucial role in this dream becoming reality.Suggest a correction