Kyle Walker would be forgiven for not being too sorry at missing Tottenham Hotspur's Europa League first leg loss to FC Dnipro on Thursday.
He had faced their Ukrainian winger, Yevhen Konoplyanka, twice already on England duty and knew what a handful he is.
In Walker's place came his fellow right-back and former Sheffield United teammate Kyle Naughton. The elder of the two Kyles has predominantly deputised in the position when the younger one has been absent, and he did so again at the Dnipro-Arena.
There were times when the quick feet and even quicker mind of Konoplyanka twisted Naughton up like a pretzel. Unsurprisingly, his toughest spell came immediately following ITV commentator Clarke Carlisle praising the job he was doing on the Ukraine international (the commentator's curse strikes again!).
If Konoplyanka got the better of Naughton overall, one incident late on did hint the latter was finding a way of dealing with him.
Nabil Bentaleb gave the ball away, allowing the problematic wide-man to set off on one of his swerving runs. He veered into a crowded area and the right-back quickly harried him, ushering him away from goal and winning the ball.
Naughton might well find hope from that moment, should he be selected to face Dnipro in the second leg at White Hart Lane next week. Yet the 25-year-old will know he could feasibly be out of the team, as he is likely to be for the trip to Norwich City on Sunday.
Walker's hold on that right-back position is such that it is hard to see him losing it anytime soon. Following Spurs' 1-0 win over Everton two weeks ago, he spoke on Twitter about his pleasure at reaching his latest career milestone:
In comparison, Naughton has only appeared 24 times in the Premier League for Spurs. Several of them came as a makeshift left-back, a position he is capable enough in so long as he is not forced to do anything with his left foot (naturally, a bit of a problem against anyone who attacks him on the outside).
Bleacher Report's Allan Jiang wrote last October about the importance of Naughton getting a run on his natural side if he is to truly prove himself in North London. That remains the case, and it will be all the more frustrating for the player that, barring injury to Walker, he is unlikely to get that chance.
When he has played right-back, he has largely done well. In his last Premier League start there against Stoke City, Naughton was commanding and efficient in the 3-0 win. He came on in the second half against Crystal Palace and was similarly solid, while it was his diagonal ball that allowed Emmanuel Adebayor to tee up Christian Eriksen for Spurs' opener in that match.
He was worked harder against Dnipro, but still demonstrated his ability to contribute going forward. It was he who fed Paulinho in the right-hand channel before Roberto Soldado missed an open goal from the Brazilian's cross.
Naughton has done little wrong in these rare chances. Arguably, he did slightly better than Walker did against Konoplyanka.
Walker's potential—notably in the form of his athleticism and eye-catching prowess in attack—gave him the initial edge over his namesake when both were establishing themselves. He has subsequently proved he is not just the flashier player, though. He has enough about him defensively too.
After a tougher second full-season with Spurs in 2012-13 (culminating in a costly mistake away at Liverpool), Walker appears to have benefited from the experience. He is more positionally disciplined and has become more comprehensive in securing the ball in challenges.
With greater on-pitch maturity, the 23-year-old appears to be becoming more confident too. As he recently told The Sunday Times (via the London Evening Standard):
The prospect of Walker adding goals to his currently dangerous, but occasionally result-less forays forward is an exciting one for Spurs. Going from strength to strength in these different aspects of his game, the player who extended his contract to 2019 last October is one the club clearly hope will develop into a genuine cornerstone of the team for years to come.
Naughton has, and likely will continue to do decent work while he tries to displace his teammate. But having held off a potential challenge from Adam Smith to be back-up (the England under-21 prospect has now joined Bournemouth), cementing that spot now in the face of advances from the versatile Ryan Fredericks—currently on loan with Millwall)—might not be enough to sustain his professional appetite for much longer.
Being at a club challenging for a top-four place and European honours without actually playing consistently will only appeal for so long. He impressed enough in loan spells with Leicester City and Norwich City that—coupled with the glimpses of him at Spurs—there should be takers if he becomes available this summer.
Spurs will not be in a hurry to be shot of him, but Naughton may soon realise that this club ain't big enough for two Kyles.
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