Djed Spence’s strengths analysed amid Tottenham and Nottingham Forest transfer links

The right-sided defender could be on his way to north London this summer.

Tottenham are “leading the race” to sign Middlesbrough full-back Djed Spence this summer, according to a report from the Northern Echo.

The 21-year-old defender has enjoyed a meteoric rise in recent months following a highly successful loan spell with Nottingham Forest that culminated in promotion to the Premier League via the Championship play-offs.

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But despite his impressive form, it is understood that Boro are eager to sell the player, and plan to use the £15 million or so they are demanding to fund their own recruitment drive this summer.

For their part, Forest are also said to be keen on securing a permanent deal for Spence, but Spurs’ interest is at an advanced stage, and there appears to be a growing confidence among club chiefs that he will make a move to north London in the coming weeks.

With that in mind, we’ve taken a closer look at the key attributes that have convinced Tottenham to make the emerging talent one of their key transfer targets...


One of the main strengths in Spence’s game is his ability to drive a side forward with the ball at his feet.

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According to Whoscored, only Keinan Davis bettered the full-back’s average of 1.9 successful dribbles per game for Forest last season, and that figure also puts him in the top six for the Championship as a whole, with no other defender completing more runs per 90 minutes.

A closer look at Spence’s heat map for the 2021/22 campaign shows that he often impacts the game in suitably advanced areas too.

Djed Spence’s heat map for the 2021/22 Championship season. Djed Spence’s heat map for the 2021/22 Championship season.
Djed Spence’s heat map for the 2021/22 Championship season.

Operating predominantly as a right wing-back for Forest, the 21-year-old is not averse to aiding play in the final third, and in that respect should be an ideal fit for Antonio Conte’s preferred five-man defence.

Incisive passing

Over the course of 2021/22, Spence registered four assists in the Championship, but showed enough creative flair to suggest that he has the potential to improve that tally in the future.

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As per Whoscored, the full-back averaged one key pass per game for Forest last term, putting him in the top four of Steve Cooper’s squad as a whole.

A more in-depth examination shows that Spence has also averaged 2.77 passes into the final third per 90 minutes, and a further 2.03 passes into the penalty area, over the course of his career so far, according to Wyscout.

In terms of his crossing ability, Spence has shown plenty of willingness - even if his overall accuracy still has room to improve.

Since joining Forest, the wide man has successfully found his man with just 31.5% of his 127 attempted crosses. By comparison, current Spurs full-back Matt Doherty was accurate with almost 40% of his deliveries into the box this season.

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But the key with Spence is that he consistently puts himself into advantageous positions from which he is capable of making those crosses in the first place.

Below is the defender’s cross map from Forest’s 5-1 win over Swansea City in April.

Djed Spence’s cross map vs Swansea City, April 30th 2022.Djed Spence’s cross map vs Swansea City, April 30th 2022.
Djed Spence’s cross map vs Swansea City, April 30th 2022.

On that day, Spence found his man with three out of his four attempted balls into the area, with all three coming from areas between the edge of the 18-yard box and the byline.

If he can replicate that kind of output on a regular basis with the likes of Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min to aim for in the middle, you would imagine that he could - and should - cause plenty of issues for Premier League centre-halves.

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While much of the emphasis when analysing modern full-backs is placed on their attacking abilities, it’s important to remember that their primary job in most cases is still to defend.

In terms of his ability to read a game and anticipate danger, all the signs are that Spence is well-equipped for the step up to the top flight.

The full-back’s average of 1.5 tackles per game barely put him in the top 10 of Forest’s squad last season, but his tally of 1.6 interceptions per 90 minutes was bettered only by centre-back Joe Worrall, as per Whoscored.

One particularly effective display saw Spence make 11 interventions in a recent play-off semi-final clash against Sheffield United.

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Djed Spence’s interception map vs Sheffield United, May 17th 2022. Djed Spence’s interception map vs Sheffield United, May 17th 2022.
Djed Spence’s interception map vs Sheffield United, May 17th 2022.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this visual representation of Spence’s defensive work is just how much of it takes place in the opposition half. Five out of his 11 interceptions happen on or ahead of the halfway line, and that proactive, preventative approach to breaking up play, coupled with his natural ball-carrying abilities, often proves to be a useful weapon when it comes to turning defence into attack at pace.

Elsewhere, the 21-year-old won an admirable 65.1% of his defensive duels in 2021/22. Again, to contextualise that figure a little further, Doherty won 62.5% of his equivalent duels last season.

All in all, then, Spence has shown himself to be an astute and accomplished defensive presence in recent months, and, as with most other aspects of his game, you would imagine that he still has plenty of potential yet to be realised.

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