27th May 2016. By Edward Stratmann.
Tottenham Hotspur’s astute signing of Toby Alderweireld has undoubtedly been one of the best pieces of business this season. Having enjoyed a remarkable stint on loan at Southampton last term, Spurs’ decision to acquire his services to partner his Belgian countryman, Jan Vertonghen, at the back has seen the duo form a match made in heaven.
Aside from being teammates at international level, where they’re set to feature heavily in the upcoming Euros, Vertonghen and Alderweireld’s relationship extends way back, for both men were part of Germinal Beerschot’s impressive youth academy before leaving for Ajax a year apart (Alderweireld left in 2004 and Vertonghen in 2003).
Their formidable partnership has undoubtedly been one of the cornerstones of Spurs’ incredible season. The fact Mauricio Pochettino’s side have the equal best defensive record in the Premier League, having only conceded 35 goals, is in large part due to their Belgian rocks at the back.
“They are good partners,” Pochettino explained. “For me, it is important how we work as a team, to try and defend our goal, and to have a very good balance. But it is true that Toby has made a very good impact in the team.”
Alderweireld, however, has been particularly exceptional, hardly putting a foot wrong all season, in a campaign where he hasn’t missed a minute of Premier League or Europa League action.
The 27-year-old’s gone about his work with the utmost diligence, commitment and discipline, with the uncompromising yet highly intelligent defender only receiving four yellow cards in all competitions. His thoughtful approach to defending is also suitably illustrated by the fact he’s only committed nine fouls in the Premier League in his 3,420 minutes afield. Indeed his durability, fitness, self control and judgement are a testament to his professionalism.
In terms of his decision making, he’s been nigh on flawless, as he almost always makes the right call as to whether he should step out and apply a challenge if he believes he can force a turnover or sit back and hold his position if he can’t. There’s nothing rash, he instead prefers to rely on his savvy positional sense and wisdom to make well calculated decisions based on the scenario he’s confronted with.
Moreover, his aptitude to make excellent decisions also transfers over to his work in possession, where his capacity to use the ball with precision and clarity has been vital for his side in building out from the back and in retaining possession. The possessor of a sublime range of passing, it’s been a common sight to witness him spraying incisive, 40-50 yard diagonals out to the flanks. This approach has worked nicely, for it gives his wingers an opportunity to isolate themselves against their markers in 1v1 situations. The elegant, two footed Belgian’s vast passing repetoire has also seen him able to regularly pinpoint the likes of Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Erik Lamela after they’ve cleverly found space in which to receive.
Another key component to his success, and his team’s overall effectiveness in possession, is the way he and Vertonghen split wide when his team are passing out from the back to allow their defensive midfielders, usually Eric Dier and Mousa Dembele, to drop in between them to be provide an option. Furthermore, by doing so this also gives Tottenham’s fullbacks a brilliant platform to motor up the touchline in the knowledge that the two centre-backs have the space in behind them covered in the case of a turnover.
With the versatile Alderweireld capable of operating as a holding midfielder and a fullback, this means he’s extremely comfortable out on the flank and using the ball in wide areas. Pochettino’s obviously recognised Vertonghen’s familiarity with operating as a fullback too, and so he duly deserves plenty of credit for the undisputed success of the tactic.
Physically, the former Ajax stopper’s strength, speed and solid leap have all been key in his ability to deal with a wide range of attackers who possess a variety of differing attributes. Standing at 187cm tall, he’s got the height and the jump to handle the big men, while his athleticism ensures he can cope nicely with speedsters. Upon factoring in his knowledge of where best to position his body to handle crosses and 1v1 duels, it’s little wonder he’s such a challenging proposition for any forward to overcome.
After enjoying such a magnificent season, it was a fitting reward for all his tremendous work that he was named in the Premier League Team of the Year and won Spurs’ Fans’ Player of the Year award.
Having a player who performs his role with such tactical acuity and efficiency, and one who has no real weaknesses, has seen him become an absolutely indispensable member of Pochettino’s well drilled outfit.
When speaking on his splendid season, it was fascinating to hear how he notes the impact of not only Pochettino, but also his stint at Ajax and Diego Simeone’s influence during his time at Atletico. “Many defenders can defend well, but they maybe are not so good with the ball at their feet,” explained Alderweireld.
“I’m comfortable in possession. I always know what to do. That’s the Ajax school. On the other hand, I have those Simeone principles somewhere in the back of my mind.
“I got the best from both worlds and at Tottenham I’m seeing the benefit of it.
“Here, at Spurs, we also train pretty tactically. The manager prepares us for every single situation, but we are more a ball-playing team than Atlético. Pressing football, where everyone works for each other, from the striker to the goalkeeper. We are a hungry team, without real stars. I have never worked so hard in my life as under Pochettino.”
With Spurs looking to challenge for the title next season, you can guarantee Alderweireld will be putting his multifaceted skillset to great use to help Spurs go one step higher next time around.
His all-round quality, work ethic and footballing intellect will see to it.
Take a look at Edward’s blog for more interesting player analysis.