Premier League: What Has Gone Wrong for Andros Townsend at Tottenham Hotspur?

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Premier League: What Has Gone Wrong for Andros Townsend at Tottenham Hotspur?
Francisco Seco
Tough nights like Andros Townsend endured out in Benfica have been more common of late than he would have liked.

Describing Tottenham Hotspur winger Andros Townsend as a victim of his own success this season is probably a bit strong.

After all, any year in which a young man barely past 21 breaks into the first team at his boyhood club and represents his country for the first time is not to be sniffed at. In an article posted in February, this writer identified him as the surprise performer for the North London club in 2013-14.

Still, there is an element of truth to the notion that the lows of Townsend's name-making season have more than balanced the highs since his England debut pushed him into the national limelight.

Sang Tan
Andros Townsend certainly enjoyed his first experiences playing for England.

As a prospect for Roy Hodgson's World Cup squad this summer, the resulting scrutiny has denied him a more carefully managed development process.

Brighter displays—like his goalscoring contribution to Spurs' 2-0 win over Aston Villa immediately following his international bow—have been hyped up. Less impressive outings have been used as a stick to beat him with.

As things stand, Townsend is struggling to convince Spurs boss Tim Sherwood that he should be an automatic starter.

What has changed in recent months to cause his promising campaign to peter out?

 

Numbers Never Lie?

The above statistic was posted around the time of Tottenham's 4-0 loss to Liverpool last weekend.

In his half-hour on the pitch as a substitute for Aaron Lennon, Townsend was arguably his team's most threatening performernot saying much given the slim pickings elsewhere.

Paul Gilham/Getty Images
Townsend was energetic and effective up to a point against Arsenal.

He did good work putting the opposition on the back foot as he looked to dart inside from the right, on a few occasions getting in good positions too. Ultimately, though, no telling cross or shot was produced.

Assists are not everything for wingers when it comes to creating. Having stretched an opposite defence, they may play the pass before the assist or perhaps force a corner kick. However, the fact remains that their role puts them in a prime position to set up team-mates in the penalty box.

Townsend has evidently not been able to do that enough this season.

The 22-year-old enjoyed one of his more positive showings of 2014 in last month's 1-0 defeat to Arsenal. Even then, the issue of productivity clouded the verve and incisiveness he showed by consistently finding a way inside from the right wing.

Squawka.com recorded Townsend as completing 32 of his 39 passes against Arsenal (79 per cent). As the following graphic shows, many of these came as part of Spurs' buildup play in a game in which they had the better of possession (54 per cent):

Squawka.com
Townsend's attempted passes versus Arsenal last month.

Further forward, however, Townsend struggled to link up with his team-mates.

He found a fellow Spur on just one of eight attempts, though he was unlucky not to connect on a couple of occasionsparticularly when he and Nacer Chadli just got their timing off by a fraction:

Squawka.com
Townsend's attempted crosses versus Arsenal.

Making a good delivery or firing in a good shot at the pace Townsend is often entering the final third with is not easy. He has shown himself capable of it this season, though.

In a performance that convinced then-manager Andre Villas-Boas to hand his young charge his chance, Townsend set up goals for Paulinho and Roberto Soldado in the 5-1 Europa League win over Dinamo Tbilisi. He netted one himself too.

He also did fine work in the run-up to Wayne Rooney putting England ahead in the 4-1 World Cup qualifier win over Montenegro. He scored in that game as well.

Shakh Aivazov
Townsend showed against Dinamo Tbilisi what he is capable of.

Given the weaker standard of the opposition in those two outings, some might argue it was Townsend shining at a level more suited to his talents.

While he clearly has work to do become a genuine top-class player, his fearless displays early this season and on loan at Queens Park Rangers last season have done more than enough to underline the quality at his disposal—if not, just yet, his ability to consistently produce it.

 

A Known Quantity

One of the biggest differences between the Townsend who started just three of Tottenham's seven games in March (completing 90 minutes once) and the player who reveled in running at defences early in the campaign is he is now a known quantity.

Be it in his ability to beat a man and swing a cross in or his desire to dribble inside and shoot, teams are well-prepared for the threat he offers.

The publicity created particularly by his England appearances has alerted Premier League managers and players sooner than he might have otherwise had to deal with.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Townsend's fellow winger, Aaron Lennon, also had to deal with increased attention from opposing teams following his own breakthrough in 2006.

Back in 2005-06, Townsend's fellow Spurs winger, Aaron Lennon, often terrorised opposing full-backs unprepared for his sudden, often lethal changes of pace.

After a season of that and the greater recognition from playing for England in that summer's World Cup, teams were readier the following August, forcing Lennon to work harder to find ways through.

Townsend has not had the luxury of such extended obliviousness on the part of his peers.

Even in the aforementioned outing away at Aston Villa, he had to deal with players looking to stop him before he got into full flow. Townsend got the better of Paul Lambert's side, but has found it harder since then.

 

Team Troubles

Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images
Townsend has been part of a new-look Spurs attack—also featuring new signings like Erik Lamela and Roberto Soldado—that has not quite clicked this season.

Townsend's bad luckrelatively speakinghas been to enter the Tottenham first-team thinking in such a tumultuous season.

Despite his own issues with creativity, he has not been helped by the constant tinkering and—partly consequential—misfiring of the Spurs' attack, though it should be stated that Roberto Soldado especially did not benefit from Townsend looking for goal more than he did him early on in the season.

He also missed out on immediately proving himself under new manager Sherwood following Villas-Boas' departure in December:

By the time Townsend returned in early February, the momentum he had built prior to Christmas had evaporated.

Sherwood has had more joy with his team as an attacking prospect. But besides his clear preference for Emmanuel Adebayor up front—backed up by the striker's general form—he has still had to deal with uncertainty similar to Villas-Boas' as to who else should be playing around him.

Kirsty Wigglesworth
Sherwood clearly rates Townsend, but has not seen enough from him to give a regular starting berth.

Townsend has been tried in right and left midfield since, but has not done enough to convince his new manager that he ought to be a regular starter.

Unfortunately, with few other players doing so either, Spurs have been neither cohesive nor consistent going forward.

Sherwood praised Townsend when speaking to The Mirror's Darren Witcoop in early February. While he clearly rates him, the wide man's lack of production has made it difficult to justify handing him the kind of minutes he got earlier in the year.

Despite the circumstances that have undoubtedly affected him, with six matches remaining for Spurs this season, it is up to Townsend to prove his worth.

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