Ever since Ledley King announced his retirement in 2012, the White Hart Lane faithful have been seeking a new defensive ‘King’. From the error-prone Younes Kaboul to the muddled Vlad Chiriches, there have been no less than nine center backs, to grace the Lilywhite jersey in those three years. Only one of those nine has been able to impress the fans and cement his place in the starting XI. And he is Super Jan Vertonghen.
So it was evident we needed someone who would not only coordinate with Vertonghen and build a strong partnership, but also improve our shambolic defensive record. Spurs conceded 53 goals last season, the 5th highest in the league and same as Burnley, who were relegated. Signing a defender, especially a center-half isn’t as easy as it sounds. The two center backs of a team form the backbone of that team. If you can penetrate those two, you can be well assured that the opposition team WILL score goals. A center-back is not only judged by his tackles, but also by the number of clearances, interceptions, aerial duels won, passing accuracy and the list goes on. And if he can chip in with occasional goals, then it’s an added bonus.
Crying out for a new defensive partner, Vertonghen and Spurs fans finally seemed to have found an answer when they signed Toby Alderweireld, from Atletico Madrid earlier this season. Having played with Vertonghen before at Ajax and impressing everyone with his performances for Southampton (on loan), the signing was a no-brainer. After negotiations and threats of legal action being taken against the player that lasted for weeks, Spurs had the last laugh, when they finally managed to get Alderweireld at White Hart Lane for £11.5m.
Earlier, whenever the likes of Kaboul, Chiriches or Michael Dawson made a mistake, fans would look at Vertonghen and feel sorry for him. It affected his performance as well, and one would think that he’ll leave the club by the end of that season. Luckily, Alderweireld came to the rescue. Not only has he brought with himself a rich vein of footballing experience, but also a commanding sense of leadership. The 26-year old has all the ingredients of a perfect defender and having played in three of the most coveted European leagues; he has already established himself as a fan favourite.
Spurs have gone from being the proud owner of 15th worst defensive record in the Premier League last season, to the best defensive record in the league this season. They’ve conceded only 18 goals in 22 games and currently have the second best goal difference in the league of +20. In comparison, their goal difference last season after 22 games was a mere +2 having shipped in 30 goals. Much of that improvement is down to Alderweireld and his partnership with Super Jan.
When the Belgian was in Southampton, he didn’t make a single mistake in the entire league that lead to a shot on the goal. However, in his first home game of the season against Stoke, he seemed to have fallen in the Spurs defensive conundrum when he conceded a silly penalty. Apart from that game and the recent FA Cup clash with Leicester, where he looked a little off, he’s been rock-solid.
One should understand the importance of long passing and attacking full-backs in Mauricio Pochettino’s system. In his very first competitive match for the club against Manchester United, Alderweireld and his passing range drew attention. It was the first of its kind from a Spurs player (since Redknapp-era), defensive or midfield, to have such a wide distribution. The chart below shows exactly that:
Not only does he have that wide passing range, he is also known for his long passes. These long passes are really handy for any Pochettino team. They not only lead to direct scoring chances but also create transitions in the final third. It’s not a coincidence, when you see that Alderweireld got two assists from these long passes and Dele Alli was at the right end on both the occasions.
In a recent interview, Toby called himself as a ‘total defender’, saying that he learned to play at Ajax, learned to defend at Atletico and hence, Tottenham benefit from that. In addition to his defensive abilities, he can score goals too. He has 3 headed goals in 55 games he played in the Premier League so far, a stat, which one will not complain of. Needless to say, he is a threat during the set pieces.
While one would be extremely happy with his performances on the pitch, one can’t just ignore how massively he has improved Jan Vertonghen’s performances as well. Their reunion meant a better understanding and chemistry between the two center backs, which was lacking at White Hart Lane ever since Ledley King departed. No longer does Hugo Lloris, one of the world’s best goalkeepers, need to worry about the leakage of goals that would prove costly in the race to the elite Top 4. With a passing accuracy of 81% stretched over 22 games, and having collected just one yellow card so far, he has been one of the best signings this season.
Watching Alderweireld winning the aerial duels, is a breath of fresh air. His sense of calm and composure along with his partnership with Vertonghen is everything that the White Hart Lane faithful have been crying for since Ledley King’s retirement. A rating of 7.14 according to WhoScored.com per match, Toby not only lifted the latter’s spirits but also provided the much needed shielding for a world class shot-stopper. If he can continue his form for the rest of the season, the fans will already consider him to be a legend. Last but not the least; his hair is still perfectly in place.
Twitter: @sourjya_spurs14 https://twitter.com/sourjya_spurs14
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