It finally happened. DeAndre Yedlin, star right-back for his hometown Seattle Sounders, has finally made his transfer to Tottenham Hotspur permanent. The deal was sealed much earlier in the season, after the soccer world was abuzz with his USMNT World Cup performance and standout appearances for the Sounders. For a number of reasons, his development being one of them, Tottenham allowed Yedlin to stay with the Sounders until the end of the MLS season. The 21-year-old was instrumental in leading the Sounders to two trophies this past season, the Lamar Hunt Open Cup and the MLS Supporters’ Shield, as well as a solid playoff run that ended on away goals against the Los Angeles Galaxy. But now that Yedlin has finally made it to London, what can fans expect from the young American? How will he fit into a struggling, tepid Spurs side?
Back when Yedlin’s work permit was finally approved, Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino made it clear that he wanted the right-back in his squad as soon as possible: “It is important for his development that he is given the time to adapt to his new surroundings both on and off the pitch and we believe that by coming to us in January it will give him the best opportunity to do so.” Many UK news outlets are reporting that out-of-favor right-back Kyle Naughton will be sold by the end of January, leaving Yedlin, Kyle Walker, and Eric Dier as the club’s three natural right-backs. Dier, on the other hand, prefers to play center back – Pochettino may be clearing the way for him to do just that, possibly through a loan spell for the rest of the season. Either way, Yedlin’s main competition for the right-back position is England international Kyle Walker.
Walker, who was a much-hyped player a few years ago, suffered through a number of injuries in 2014. He made his return to the team in December and has played 90 minutes in every Premier League match since then. Yedlin and Walker are very similar players of the “marauding”full-back model: both are speedy and agile, great dribblers of the ball, and can pick out both passes and crosses with exceptional accuracy. Walker is the more physical of the two, and Yedlin is more technically proficient – in the end, the two players are ridiculously similar.
So who’s going to start? I’d imagine that Yedlin will get his first start in the FA Cup or Europa League, as early as this week’s FA cup tie against Burnley. Walker will continue to get the nod in the Premier League, but if Yedlin impresses in the other competitions and in substitute appearances, I could see the American unseating Walker with relative ease. Pochettino likes his full-backs to full of energy and stamina, in order to press high up the flanks before quickly passing or crossing to a forward or attacking midfielder. Again, the similarities between the two players are the qualities Pochettino looks for, but Yedlin’s youth and continued development likely notches him above Walker in the long run. The Englishman’s injuries have caused him to lose some pace, leaving him vulnerable to being unseated by Yedlin and his famous speed.
But if Yedlin isn’t able to oust Walker at right-back in the near future, what’s in store for the youngster for the rest of the Premier League season? A few guesses:
- A loan move elsewhere. While far from ideal, Yedlin could be slipped out before the end of the January transfer window to another club in the Premier League or the Football League that is in immediate need of the right-back. To succeed in the Premier League, Yedlin needs to have first-team experience as quickly as possible. If he doesn’t impress Pochettino enough now, he should be sent somewhere where he can develop and get another shot at proving himself by next August.
- Left-back. Yedlin is decidedly a right-footed player, and to my knowledge has never played on the left side in his professional career. But oftentimes full-backs are asked to switch sides for one reason or another, and Yedlin’s speed is good enough to use on either flank to pin back opposing wingers and full-backs. He’ll need to work on crossing and passing with his left foot in order to make this truly work, but it’s worth noting that he’s probably not too shabby when cutting inside and using his right foot to shoot or pass to an overlapping player. Danny Rose seems to have the position locked down for Spurs, but Pochettino could take a chance and see how Yedlin does from that position.
- Winger/Wide midfielder. Jurgen Klinsmann is a highly respected coach, and when he included DeAndre Yedlin in his final World Cup roster, many were left scratching their heads. When Yedlin came on against Portugal, playing as a right winger instead of full-back, people scratched their heads even more. But there was no scratching of heads once the youngster started charging down the flank, dispatching Portuguese defenders with jaw-dropping ease. One such attack led to a USA goal, and Yedlin’s inclusion was questioned no more. Spurs have a history of taking a fast, marauding full-back and turning him into the most expensive player in the world. Young DeAndre certainly has a ways to go, but it’s not the craziest thing in the world to imagine him being pushed further up the pitch in the next couple years. He would certainly impress in such positions, and with the right conditions he could become the next Gareth Bale.
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