Tottenham’s versatility in defence has made them the most formidable unit in the Premier League and they will prove that in Jan Vertonghen’s absence over the next two months.
Spurs dealt with Toby Alderweireld’s injury earlier this season and history suggests they will be able to cope with Vertonghen’s too. Granted, the team will be weaker without the presence of the centre-back – like any team in the Premier League would be – but Tottenham have enough options to cope and they will need to prove this as the race for the title heats up.
Vertonghen and Alderweireld are considered by many to be one of the best centre-back pairings in the Premier League and statistics will support that in recent seasons. Throughout the 2015-16 campaign, Spurs conceded 35 goals in the league, which was matched only by Manchester United in England’s top flight and they have carried on that impressive form into 2017, having conceded just 16 goals this season. Only Chelsea better that record (with 15 goals conceded) while every other team in the division has conceded 20 goals or more. Vertonghen has been at the heart of that defence during both seasons.
However, his latest injury is not the first major blow he has suffered in the last 12 months, as he was ruled out of action for 16 games between January and April in 2016. Tottenham dealt with it well at the time though as Kevin Wimmer stepped in brilliantly to provide adequate cover. The 24-year-old was thrust into the limelight rather unexpectedly but all things considered, he didn’t look too far out of place. Quite the contrary actually because Tottenham conceded just 14 goals with him in the side and five of those were against Borussia Dortmund in the Europa League. They went on to pick up eight victories and just four defeats as they mounted a serious title challenge.
Even when options seemed a little depleted last season, Tottenham held up well with Danny Rose, Kyle Walker and Alderweireld all performing to their usual high standards to carry the team through fairly comfortably. Mauricio Pochettino has already been dealt several dilemmas this season after Harry Kane and Alderweireld endured long absences and he has often come up with the goods. Tottenham did suffer a slight dip in form before Christmas when they went seven games without a victory in all competitions following an impressive 12-game unbeaten streak but what was most noticeable was the fact they still avoided defeats. It was more of a concern in attack, which posed the biggest challenge for Pochettino as Eric Dier stepped in to provide cover for Alderweireld.
However, at this stage of the season, Tottenham now have further options available as Wimmer has started to establish himself as a good back-up option. The defender cannot be compared to his Belgian teammates at centre-back but he is consistently solid and as far as second choice options go, he’s not that bad at all. But what could be the most exciting prospect is seeing Ben Davies come into the defence as part of a new-found back three, which has brought success more recently. Tottenham looked sensational against West Brom when they swept past their opponents in a 4-0 victory at White Hart Lane and it was inspired by a changed formation, including a new-look defence.
Davies looks assured and comfortable on the ball and with the guidance of Alderweireld he is sure to slot in well in Vertonghen’s absence. He is better suited to the role of a defender in a back three but if Pochettino doesn’t opt to throw in the 23-year-old he still has tried and tested alternatives with Dier and Wimmer also in the frame. It’s a comfortable position to be in and there’s not many in the league who can boost similar flexibility.
Chelsea’s back three of Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill and David Luiz are very versatile and adaptable and they have John Terry waiting on the bench to come on if needs be. That is a fairly impressive quartet but Chelsea proved at the start of the season they can be easily exploited with a rigid back four and they do rely heavily on wing-backs Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso. Perhaps without that personnel they may not have the same level of success they have enjoyed in the second period of the campaign so far.
Tottenham certainly do have options – in formations and in personnel – and that is why they must be considered the most elite defensive unit in the Premier League. They must now prove that with results in the next two months while Vertonghen sits out another lengthy spell.