Sam Tighe explains how Kyle Walker-Peters has flourished in the left-back position, having mastered the opposite flank last season. It's the latest edition of Tactical Watch, in association with Sportsbet.io.
It’s not often a key player from one season is forced to completely alter their position and role for the next. It’s even less often that transition is a roaring success. That’s what’s made Kyle Walker-Peters’s move to left-back such a sensational storyline at Southampton this season: crucial from one flank in 2020/21, crucial from the other in 2021/22.
You need only rewind six months to find KWP hurtling down the right flank, ball glued to his foot. A vital outlet in Southampton’s attacking play, he was the target of long cross-field balls from Jannik Vestergaard and often tasked with surging upfield, gaining Saints territory.
His importance was perhaps highlighted most when he wasn’t present; Saints failed to win any of the eight games he missed, his absence keenly felt not only defensively, but in moving the ball from defence into attack, too.
Yet this season, he’s played precisely zero minutes in the league at right-back, instead transitioning to left-back. The switch has been swift and effective, and if the Watford and Aston Villa wins are anything to go by, it adds something fresh to the team dynamic.
It should come as no surprise he’s adapted so fast; Saints fans may not have been accustomed to seeing him on the left before this season, but he’d played plenty of it in his previous footballing life. Mauricio Pochettino used him at left-back on occasion for Tottenham, while both Spurs and England youth coaches both leaned on him in that area.
Ralph Hasenhüttl is the latest to take advantage of Walker-Peters’s immense ambidexterity, and with seven starts on the left in the bank this season, he’s found his rhythm and looks just as at ease here as he did on the opposite flank last term. The last two performances in particular have been either man of the match-calibre or close to it.
KWP continues to stand high and wide when his centre-backs are on the ball, stretching the pitch as much as possible. Once he receives the ball, though, he’s now a true dual-threat: able to push up the line and carry the ball, or invert into central midfield and combine closely with others.
Again, it’s no surprise that such a technically proficient and possession-focused full-back can thrive in these scenarios. He has the speed and dribbling to play in larger spaces, plus the control and technique to thrive in tighter spots too.
When he takes the outside lane, he’s more than willing to cross with his left, delivering dangerous balls into the box; Watford never really got a handle on that. When he cuts inside and underlaps, he can play killer balls into his runners from difficult angles to defend; Villa were taken apart by this.
Add this to the fact he bottled up two of the Premier League’s more dangerous wingers in Ismaïla Sarr and Leon Bailey recently, matching up well with the former and dominating the latter in duels, and it’s fair to say Saints fans have witnessed mastery from the left-back position of late.
The one-two punch combo of KWP’s smooth, slick play and Tino Livramento’s galloping runs is brilliantly varied, extremely exciting and, most importantly, too much for opponents to handle.
It’s probably not how many foresaw the full-back roles going this campaign, but this dynamic, plus some welcome depth to the setup, means it looks as healthy and potent as ever.