Spurs have the best defensive record in the league and the Belgian partnership of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld have been excellent throughout. The pair have played every minute together until Vertonghen suffered an injury against Crystal Palace. He will now be missing for a number of weeks, which could be a huge blow for Spurs’ title hopes. A defensive injury can cause more havoc than an injury to one of your key attacking players, as it can decrease the understanding at the back. Spurs have struggled defensively for years and they will worry that they will return to that in the absence of Vertonghen, which could derail the club’s title ambitions.
This season, Spurs have surprisingly emerged as one of the most consistent sides in the division and are out-performing the more historically successful clubs in Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea. A huge reason for their success has been the signing of Toby Alderweireld, which has provided the club with a strong defensive line up for the first time in years. Spurs have always had exciting attacking players, but they have failed to break the top four, as they were always susceptible to leaking goals. They have cut that out this year and the injury to Vertonghen could be the beginning of Tottenham falling off the pace.
Tottenham have conceded just 19 goals in 23 matches, which has massively aided their league position. They have lost just three matches, and their defensive record has played a huge part in that low figure. They have drawn nine matches, which is the most in the top five, but avoiding defeat is a good habit to be in when chasing the title. Spurs fans may be concerned about the club being mentioned as title challengers, but it’s better to aim high and miss out narrowly, thus getting Champions League qualification.
Vertonghen is having the best season of his Spurs career, with his partnership with Alderweireld bringing the best out of him. He has had to play with an assortment of central defenders at Spurs, and he has failed to form an effective partnership until now. He has made a combination of 70 blocks and interceptions, highlighting his excellent reading of the game. The Belgian has won 61.68% of his duels, and has been one of the most consistent defenders in the league, making just one defensive error so far. He is perfect for Pochettino’s style of play as he is very comfortable on the ball, as shown by his 87% pass success rate.
Spurs brought on Kevin Wimmer on Saturday and he looks likely to deputise for Vertonghen. He is a highly rated Austrian centre half, but he hasn’t really been given a chance at the club and limited first team opportunities will have dented his confidence. It isn’t ideal for Spurs to call upon a player who has limited experience in England and could struggle physically, especially with games against Norwich and Watford on the horizon in the league, both sides who have physical strikers in their ranks. It might be better to bring Eric Dier back into central defence as he is used to the league and Spurs have a lot of options in the centre midfield.
This injury to Vertonghen will be a real test for Spurs and if they overcome it and continue to win matches, they have to be considered as genuine title contenders. However there was always a risk that an injury to one of their key players could derail them. Spurs have a deep squad, but they only have a pool of 15/16 who can be considered genuine top four quality, so they may struggle to maintain their form if they contract too many injuries to key players.