Pape Matar Sarr moves up the Spurs midfield pecking order

What FA Cup ties go, this one will not live long in memory. Minimal entertainment, non-existent drama, good football practically absent, shots on goal (two in total for both teams) derisory.

Yes tottenham hotspur 1-0 Portsmouth leaves a trace in your brain will be for one of these three things:

1. Pompey’s 9,000 visiting fans caused an uproar for 90 minutes.

2. harry kane moving within a step of Jimmy Greaves’ Spurs all-time goalscoring record (this was another game that made you ponder where they’d be without him… probably heading to Fratton Park for a replay and also 10 points and six places further down the Premier league without his goals).

3. Pape Matar Sarr finally making his full debut.

Expectations around the 20-year-old Sarr are quite high, particularly given his reputation as one of the most talented midfielders of his age in European football, a player who was being closely watched by big clubs across the continent. .

18 months ago, Spurs paid Metz around £15 million ($18.1 million) to buy Sarr, but because he was loaned outright to Metz for the 2021-22 season and he spent the last half-season as fifth choice in the midfield of Antonio Conte. According to the pecking order, he had to wait until Saturday to make his full debut after a couple of recent fleeting substitute appearances in which he impressed.

Senegaldeparture from the round of 16 stage for England in it World Cup meant Sarr had a chance to impress Conte in the weeks leading up to Christmas at training ground, and he, as well as Bryan Gilhe did enough to receive opportunities in recent weeks.

Gil seized his chance against Crystal Palace midweek and followed that up with a fine performance against Portsmouth. So how did Sarr fare?

During all of this, the level of opposition and the state of the game must be taken into account. League One side Portsmouth had just 28 per cent of the ball and rarely ventured into Spurs’ third of the field (not to diminish their performance, they were organized, put together some good passages and greatly restricted the chances for them). Spurs could create).

Portsmouth sitting deep allowed Sarr, who played pivot with Oliver Skipp pushing past him, to dictate play. He touched the ball 115 times, the most on the field and more than twice as many as Skipp (54), with a pass accuracy of 90 percent, unsurprisingly. Where he excelled was in recovering the ball with five tackles (the most on the field) and three interceptions (the most by any Spurs player).

Aside from a couple of pass deflections in the first half, he shot the ball confidently and usually accurately, and also played 13 long balls (the most of any outfield player), nine of which hit the target. white.

Conte’s assistant Cristian Stellini said before the match that Sarr had been working on his body position and that was evident in the way he shielded the ball from Portsmouth’s midfielders and then opened up to change the game to any player. band.

This is his passing map, showing a variety of angles and positions (yellow lines are misplaced passes), mainly to the flanks.

And this is his touch map, again showing how much ground he covered, albeit with no touches in the area.

Sarr has played a number of different midfield positions during his short career and if he is now going to be a more regular fixture in the senior group rather than just an unused substitute, Conte will need to find the best way to use him.

In 2020-21 at Metz, he played mainly as a defensive midfielder, then last season he moved up to midfield (50 per cent of minutes) and also played 36 per cent of his minutes as an attacking midfielder behind the front line.

He can play box to box, he can break attacks, he can score goals, he can even take free kicks, as we saw in Senegal against England.

As this graph from his 2020-21 campaign, the one that convinced Spurs to buy him, shows, his shooting volume is incredibly high, as is his carrying and dribbling volume, as he has an impressive physique and good dribbling technique. .

We didn’t see a lot of dribbling or shooting against Portsmouth, but that wasn’t Sarr’s role that day. Yes Yves Bissouma had played alongside him, as he was supposed to before getting injured in warm-up, Sarr may have been given license to move further.

“He is a very young player and it is the first time he has come to England,” Stellini said of Sarr. “A year of experience in Ligue 1. About the ability, he can do everything. Great player with a lot of chances and I play a lot of different positions.

“You have to wait with the young players. With Pape, Antonio decided at this moment that he is ready to play. We worked a lot on the position of the body and he showed a desire to improve and that is very important because you can work with them.

“With Pape it was very easy, but we have a hierarchy and he has to respect that.”

Yes, there is a hierarchy, but one wonders if Sarr has moved up a place above Skipp not just with his performance here, but also with the clever way he used the ball against Palace a few days earlier.

He looks serene and mature for his age. And, like Gil, he may now become a viable option for Conte, not just in FA Cup games.

(Top photo: Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

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