Mauricio Pochettino’s defensive headache for the 2019/20 season – who could start?

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Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Dom Le Roy

Unlucky for some
Every position on a football pitch is, of course, vital but given the 13 (that’s thirteen) Premier League defeats we suffered last season, along with some fond and not-so-fond likely farewells of defensive stalwarts, it is paramount Mauricio Pochettino gets our defence right between now and the start of the season. With the greater aspirations we now have, we simply cannot afford to lose as many league games this season – we should be looking at the current leaders of the pack, and not the peloton. So, with defence in mind, let’s start by taking a look at our centre-back options for the forthcoming season.

The past (probably)
It’s looking more clear with each day that we will be finally saying arrivederci to Toby Alderweireld, who has served the club with distinction over the past 4 years, led the defence, and wasn’t too much of a primadonna at not getting a move that didn’t happen on his terms. The latest reports indicate that the defender could be joining Roma this summer (Sky Sports). It could also be said that last season, knowing that in all possibility it would be his final one in north London, Alderweireld showed as much commitment to the team cause as any other player. Good luck at AS Roma, should the deal go through… What also needs to be considered is the potential departure of Danny Rose, along with the likely less mourned loss of Kieran Trippier (ITV). However, irrespective of the personnel, the loss of two full-backs significantly lessens our defensive options.

The present (gulp…)
Alderweireld’s long-term club and international defensive colleague is, of course, Jan Vertonghen. It would be seismic (and catastrophic) if Vertonghen wasn’t our main centre back come the start of the season. Personally, I think his best natural position is at left-back, (which is where he generally plays for Belgium) but other than barring personnel emergencies, he’s at centre-back. Historically in a back three, Vertonghen plays on the left-hand side of the three. Let us consider the centre-back partnerships in both a back three and back four formations.

  1. The three-at-the-back headache
    For defensive nous alone, I would suggest Vertonghen has to be the central figure, making an assumption that the other two players to complete the trio, as it stands, would be Davinson Sánchez and Juan Foyth. Eric Dier needs to be considered here too, of course, although I don’t think it’s a thought he’s particularly fond of considering. However, if Dier is brought in to the back three, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest Vertonghen can then play at the left of the three. For the record, I would not consider any of the remaining defenders/wing-backs, Ben Davies, Serge Aurier or Kyle Walker-Peters, to be suitable to be in a back three. Maybe Walker-Peters one day. Likewise, the two potential departees, Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier, should they stay at the club, be unsuitable in a back three formation.
  2. The stress-free-four-at-the-back option
    Playing a back four makes the centre-back pairing easier, if only for the reason that one of the pair is Vertonghen, and you take your pick of either Sánchez (far more likely) or Foyth. Similar to the back three scenario, I’m not yet taking the full-backs into consideration. For the future, I can see Foyth in the DM role. Eric will love that, I’m sure.

The future (maybe)
The strong rumour is that we are about to poach William Saliba, Saint Étienne’s highly-rated defender, from our rivals down the road, for a king’s ransom it must be said (RMC). A supposed £27m for an 18 year-old who, at club level, played both as centre and right-back in a standard back four, as well on the right side of a back three. Now that Laurent Koscielny has dealt his departure hand (BBC), it may be that Arsenal up their original level of interest. Irrespective of this, should we purchase Saliba, it’s more than likely he would go on out loan, probably back to Saint Étienne, so he’s not for consideration.

The also-ran
Cameron Carter-Vickers has been on loan to Sheffield United, Ipswich Town and Swansea City since the start of the 2017/18 season, to varying degrees of success. At this point in time, it’s fair to say that Carter-Vickers’ future at Tottenham is at best uncertain, and I would suggest his level is the Championship or possibly the lower half of the Premier League and would not have thought he was part of Pochettino’s short-to-medium term setup.

Final thoughts

The loss of Alderweireld, even though we have come to accept it, is of course massive. Without a suitable, experienced replacement, we will always be light at the back, irrespective of formation. Should we manage to finish in the top three again, we will have been dealt another get-out-of-jail card. Also, if you are of a religious persuasion, pray for Jan’s health and fitness…

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