Tottenham’s Rock at the Back – Jan Vertonghen

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Jan Vertonghen
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 01: Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Hugo Lloris hugs Jan Vertonghen of Tottenham Hotspur during the Premier League match between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge on April 1, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
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There have been many genuinely world-class talents that have graced White Hart Lane and Wembley alike over the years. In more recent years, Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Rafael Van Der Vaart perhaps the most renowned. These players were Tottenham greats but never belonged to a great Tottenham team. Despite ludicrous slurs that the current crop of players are simply part of the Harry Kane team, Spurs now possess a truly Champions League-quality starting XI, and arguably squad. Not the least of which is defender Jan Vertonghen.

The “strongest” XI omits the likes of Aurier, Rose, Alderweireld, Lucas, Wanyama and Lamela, showing the level of the squad. To the annoyance of Spurs fans, the media often seems to present the key talents as above the club, with a need for trophies to keep hold of the players. Kane, Alli, Eriksen and Alderweireld are continuously linked with other clubs. However, a man that seems to have glided under the media’s radar is Jan Vertonghen.

Jan Vertonghen: The Rock of Tottenham

Defensive Improvements

Spurs bought Vertonghan in 2012. He immediately became a fan favourite, with driving runs, goals and defensive solidity. Ultimately, however, partnerships with the likes of Younes Kaboul and Vlad Chiriches perhaps undermined his ability. Alderweireld’s arrival led to a vast upturn in defensive performance. Spurs conceded 53 goals the season of 2014/15. This was reduced to 35 in 2015/16 and further to 26 in 2016/17. This remarkable change is largely accredited to Pochettino and Alderweireld. However, the absence of Alderweireld this season has gone almost unnoticed. Much of this is due to the phenomenal Davinson Sanchez. Yet it must be noted that week in, week out, Spurs can rely on a solid 8/10 performance from Vertonghen.

First Name On The Team Sheet

Jan Vertonghen has established himself as the rock in the heart of the Spurs defence. The long-term first-choice full-backs are still up for debate. In addition, it remains to be seen whether Sanchez or Alderweireld would start when fully fit. Although transfer speculation regarding the latter seems to be playing a role in his absence, the only guarantee week in, week out is that Jan will be present in the team.

A Change In Focus

Vertonghen quickly gained a reputation as an attacking centre-back at Spurs. This was typified by his performance against Swansea, where he linked up with Bale twice to grab a goal and an assist. Albeit exciting to watch, a lack of defensive cover could have left the defence exposed.

Pochettino’s primary objective was fixing the defence, in which Jan Vertonghen has benefited. Vertonghen scored four goals and assisted three during his first season in the Premier League. The Belgian has not yet recorded a single Premier League goal or assist since Pochettino’s arrival. He has adapted his game to a more strictly defence first approach. In doing so, whilst maturing as a defender, Vertonghen has become increasingly consistent.

The centre-back has not made a single error leading to a goal this Premier League season, as opposed to two errors last season. In addition, Vertonghen has already made more tackles, interceptions and won more duels. This is largely without Alderweireld, away from White Hart Lane and in a more competitive division.

Complimenting The System

Similarly to fellow Belgian Moussa Dembele, Jan Vertonghen is as calm as they come on the ball. His passing and dribbling skills are second to none. Vertonghen has averaged 69 passes a game in the Premier League this season, with an impressive 86.2% pass completion.

He also regularly starts the attacks, stepping through the first line of the opposition defence, before moving the ball on. Pochettino’s system encourages playing out of danger, in which these qualities are fundamentally important. Vertonghen’s positional flexibility also adds to his importance.

Vertonghen is comfortable playing as part of a back two, a back three, a standard left-back or even a wing-back. This provides Pochettino with useful cover in case of injuries and enables an adaptive system. The versatility of both Eric Dier and Vertonghen allows Spurs to transition from five at the back in defence, to four at the back in attack. Dier can drop back into defence when in trouble or cover any runs forward Vertonghen does make.

Praising Vertonghen

Whilst Kane, Eriksen and Son have picked up many of the plaudits this season, Vertonghen is a serious contender for both the club’s player of the season, as well as the Premier League team of the season. Vertonghen has stepped his game up to a new level. His consistency, calmness on the ball and positional flexibility are in a league almost their own.

Moreover, Vertonghen is always in the right place at the right time, continuously bailing Tottenham out of trouble. Regardless of speculation surrounding Toby Alderweireld, Spurs fans can feel safe with Vertonghen at the back. Not only does he provide quality performances, but he is also the perfect mentor to the rising star that is Davinson Sanchez. Although it is nice to get recognition for performances, it’s also a refreshing change to see one of the clubs most important players away from media speculation for once.

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