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There has been a lot of emphasis on Spurs and their young talent recently. Harry Kane, “one of their own”, is in sensational form in front of goal at 21-years-old, Ryan Mason, aged 23, has forced his way into the first team set-up having worked his way up from the academy, whilst the signing of MK Dons teenager Dele Alli was one of the biggest talking points of a rather slow January transfer window. However, another young Spurs player catching the eye is Alex Pritchard, a 21-year-old attacking midfielder midway through a season long loan with Championship outfit Brentford.
Pritchard joined Spurs aged 16, making the switch from West Ham’s youth set-up, and was soon an integral part of their under 18 side. He made his senior debut at the end of the 2013-14 season in a 3-0 win over Aston Villa, replacing Gylfi Sigurdsson with seven minutes remaining, but despite expressing his desire to push on for more game time with the first team in this current season, he was sent out on loan to Brentford. Brentford finished second in League One at the end of the 2013/14 season to win promotion to the Championship, and have certainly been one of 2014/15’s surprise packages with a real chance of finishing in a play-off place this year. Their attacking style has really caught their Championship rivals off guard and Pritchard has been a key part of this and their successful season so far.
The 21-year-old has featured in all thirty league games for the Bees this campaign, starting all but two and playing the full ninety minutes of fifteen. He has in fact been so impressive that Spurs had to decline a permanent transfer request for him made by Brentford last month. So, what has made him a mainstay in their midfield this season and why is the Bees’ manager Mark Warburton so keen on him?
Pritchard is a mature footballer. He may only be 21-years-old, but he has a good deal of experience already having played thirty-six games on loan at Swindon last season, experienced European football with Spurs at youth level and played seven times for England’s youth set-up. His year with Swindon helped him find his feet and now he is finding form. Pritchard is a very direct player who always tries to move the ball forward, with 61.1% of his accurate passes being positive ones. He’s created a whopping 66 chances since arriving at Brentford, racking up five assists from these, and has scored six goals, emphasising the fact again that he is an attack-minded player. With the flair Spurs now play with thanks to the influence of key players like Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli, Pritchard would not struggle to fit into their first team.
The young midfielder has many dimensions to his attacking play too. He can take players on, pick out a pass, have a good crack at goal or, if he does not feel a good enough option is on, he does not mind working the ball back whilst he waits for one to become available. Pritchard certainly is not shy of confidence, attempting seventy-seven take ons this season so far and completing thirty-one of these – that’s 40%. As a young, still developing player, its no surprise that he is not always successful, but as he continues to have a go it is more likely that he will master the art of dribbling sooner rather than later.
His runs perhaps perfectly sum him up as a player – a raw talent close to becoming a polished piece. Whilst on the ball, the skill and ability he has is clear in the twists, turns and tricks he pulls off, and this is the talent that he, Spurs and now Brentford are trying to mould into the right shape. As the season has progressed, he has seen more and more success when running at an opponent too, which resonates with his development as he is showing signs of improvement in all aspects as the weeks go by.
As an attacking player who is trying to unlock defences, it is also understandable that Pritchard does not have the greatest pass completion statistics. Let’s take a look at some of the Premier League’s best playmakers – Phillipe Coutinho’s 81% success rate is the sixth worst of all of Liverpool’s outfield players, Angel Di Maria’s 79% is the third worst at Manchester United, and Dusan Tadic’s 78% is the sixth worst at Southampton. Pritchard’s is 77%, the seventh worst at Brentford. However, whilst his sometimes forced through balls might stress the fans out every so often when they do not find their intended target, his sixty-six chances created speak for themselves – the boy can pick a pass. His vision is impeccable and he is able to match this with good distribution, even though defenders can suss out the pass and intercept it from time to time. He shows great potential in this area though and with some guidance and more experience, he could be able to match the statistics of wizards like Eden Hazard and David Silva.
To put his creativity into some perspective, in the entirety of the Championship, Pritchard ranks seventh with sixty-one key passes played. Leading the way is David Cotterill with 85, followed by Nathan Redmond (81), Jacob Butterfield (78), Ben Pringle (65), Grant Leadbitter (62) and Oliver Norwood (62). As you can see, Pritchard is deservedly up there amongst some of the league’s most creative players, and it is this part of his game that really catches the eye. Whilst he prefers short, quick interchanges, the young midfielder has a vast range of passes in his locker with a variety of techniques. He can use both feet well, playing the ball with all parts of his foot across both long and short ranges, on the deck or in the air. His accuracy is fantastic, with the only reason for an unsuccessful pass often being a defender reading it well. Dummying and misleading opponents is still something he can work on to prevent this, as his intentions are not always disguised brilliantly, but overall he shows great composure and confidence on the ball and is able to knock it about more than well enough.
As for his finishing, Pritchard has been unfortunate this season to hit the woodwork on a great number of occasions. He has six goals to his name, all different but equally good strikes. His first against Blackpool was a tidy finish, and his second against Reading was just as composed, whilst his third showed the confidence he has as he coolly knocked a penalty down the middle of Karl Darlow’s goal in a 3-1 win over Forest. His fourth came against Cardiff, a low drive from range arrowed into the bottom corner, his fifth was another penalty, again down the middle of the goal against Norwich, and his sixth was a simple tap in at the back post against Leeds that perfectly exhibited his great movement off the ball as he took up a fantastic position unmarked in the box.
Of forty-eight shots this season, Pritchard has hit the target twenty times, six of these being goals, hit the woodwork an agonising nine times and missed the target nineteen times. Free-kicks have proven to be one of his fortes, although he has not actually scored one yet, and these dead ball situations have contributed largely to his high percentage of shots testing the keeper or rattling the frame of the goal. There may not be a spot open for a free-kick taker at Spurs whilst Eriksen is around, but Pritchard could certainly put forward a good case for why he should get to take a look at a few even now. Deliveries into the box from set-pieces are another area where he excels, and his penalties, as one can see from the two he has scored, are always coolly dispatched. His decision-making still needs to improve for him to be a real threat in front of goal, as sometimes he can be too selfish and at others, ironically, too selfless, but he certainly has the potential to become a consistent goal-scoring midfielder who will hit double figures without fail every season.
All this is well and good, but what does he offer defensively? Well, Pritchard is a hard-worker who will track back and help out his defenders. He may not give his side a great helping hand whilst defending set pieces due to his small stature, but he is fast and good at applying pressure to opponents running with the ball. He is not scared of going in for a tackle either, attempting eighty-seven so far this season, and he rarely gives away fouls too having conceded just twelve all campaign. Instead, he wins plenty of fouls and is in fact the third most fouled player in the league having been brought down a whopping sixty-three times already. Pritchard is difficult for opponents to handle and his figure plays into his hands, giving him the chance to punish the opposition by winning free-kicks and penalties that he can convert himself clinically.
Additionally, Pritchard is yet to commit an error at the back this season and also averages two defensive actions per game; a great return for a player in an advanced role. This is a better average than fellow attacking midfielders Jota and Jon Miquel Toral, and the same amount as players like Alan Judge and Stuart Dallas. With the ability to read the game well, he is able to make plenty of interceptions, and his total of twenty-eight for the season is the fifth highest in Brentford’s squad when you exclude defenders. These interventions account for over 60% of his forty-five actions in defence, amongst a couple of brave blocks and plenty of effective clearances.
Overall, its clear to see that Pritchard is enjoying regular playing time with Brentford and that is it helping him develop as a player. He is already very intelligent on the ball, but Warburton is doing a great job in moulding his talent and shaping him into a footballer who is ready to make the grade at Spurs. So, how does he compare to his teammates at his parent club?
Well, there is not much competition for that place in attacking midfield, with only Christian Eriksen and Moussa Dembele really playing there this season, so I have also included two more attackers, though primarily wide players, in the comparison; Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli. Via Squawka’s comparison matrix, I have been able to easily compare the statistics of these four players and Pritchard in their league campaigns this season, using a per 90 minutes average in order to eradicate the problem of each player having played a different number of games.
As can be seen in the image above, whilst Pritchard does not have any statistics that better these four attackers at Spurs, he is not far off their levels of performance. He averages 2.26 key passes per ninety minutes, only bettered by Eriksen’s 2.47, and 2.45 chances created, again only bettered by the Dane’s 2.52. He does top Eriksen with assists, but falls short of Lamela and Chadli’s averages here. As for goals, Eriksen and Chadli again record superior averages whilst his shot accuracy is more or less the same as the Spurs quartet, minus the clinical Chadli. As aforementioned, his take ons and passing both need some work, but he certainly possesses the potential to compete with the likes of some of European’s most exciting talent at White Hart Lane.
What is especially interesting to see though is how Pritchard compares with Dembele. With Eriksen the main attacking midfielder at the moment, Pritchard’s role would possibly be similar to Dembele’s if he were to be integrated into the side – playing second fiddle to the Dane and waiting for his opportunities to shine when his teammate is rested. The 21-year-old has a better average of key passes, chances created, assists and goals scored per ninety minutes, as well as better shot accuracy than the Belgian. Dembele has enjoyed greater success in his passing and attempted take ons, as well as playing more forward passes, but in general Pritchard looks good enough to challenge him in the squad and take over his current role as he continues to fall short of the grade expected at Spurs and therefore struggles to get proper game time.
If Pritchard can impress Mauricio Pochettino in pre-season after his loan spell with Brentford comes to an end, perhaps he will be able to force his way into his manager’s thoughts and, ultimately, his squad. He has certainly shown this season that he is capable of doing so, and if he cannot make an impact this summer at Spurs, there will definitely be plenty of teams chasing his signature and offering better opportunities, even in the Premier League. If he does not fit in at White Hart Lane, he will have no problem making it at another top half club and proving a point to Pochettino, yet I believe he does have what it takes to become a key member of Spurs’ exciting and promising squad.
Hi, I’m Ameé, I write reguarly about the English Football League on my blog, A Pitchside View, and also women’s football at A Women’s Pitchside View. If you liked this post, please feel free to rate it and also check out other pieces I’ve written on these sites, as well as on Fanthem. Thank you.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Ameé Ruszkai