Opinion: An analysis of Tottenham’s defensive strength in depth

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Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Dom Le Roy

One of the biggest flaws in our squad this season has undoubtedly been our lack of strength in depth.

It is true that we have two sides to our squad. We have our ‘Premier League’ side, rammed full with the likes of Kane, Son, Hojbjerg, Lloris and Reguilon, and then our perceived ‘fringe XI’ that is made up of the likes of Doherty, Sanchez, Davies, Bergwijn and Hart.

Let’s start with the goalkeepers, and one position that has remained unchanged for many a season now. Hugo Lloris joined from Lyon in 2012 and has spent the vast majority of the following years as our number one, amassing 368 appearances for the Lilywhites. 

His position has come into question this season after a number of mistakes cost us points throughout the campaign.

However, with no clear competition for his spot within the squad (Joe Hart was never brought in to rival him for his number one jersey) and a need to strengthen in different places this summer, I see no reason to move Hugo out of his position just yet.

At right-back, we have the battle between Serge Aurier and Matt Doherty, a battle that has seen neither player nail down a consistent spot in the starting XI this season.

Aurier has shown glimpses of quality this season, but is inconsistent and prone to silly mistakes, perhaps most notably giving away the free-kick that cost us the Carabao Cup final against Man City.

I was quietly impressed with the signing of Matt Doherty from Wolves this past summer, but the Irishman has failed to stand out this season when given the opportunity, making just 15 appearances and creating 2 assists without registering a goal.

These figures are made more alarming when compared to his 36 appearances, 4 assists and 4 goals for Wolves last season.

This could be partially due to formation, with him being utilised more as a right wing-back for Wolves instead of his more conventional right-back position at Spurs, but time will tell as to whether Doherty will shine in a Spurs shirt.

In my opinion, this is one position that needs strengthening in the summer. Aurier’s inconsistency and Doherty’s failure to ignite leaves us exposed down the right-hand side, as evidenced in the abysmal showing against Arsenal earlier this year.

On the other side of our defensive is the much less competitive battle at left-back, a position occupied by Sergio Reguilon this season and deputised by Welshman, Ben Davies. 

Reguilon signed from Real Madrid last summer and although perhaps not shining in the role as much as we expected, he has certainly shown that he is capable of providing assists, and is no slouch in defence.

He has made 22 Premier League appearances this season and registered 4 assists, although he would have made more appearances if not for a lengthy spell on the sidelines earlier in the season.

His faithful deputy, Ben Davies, has been a loyal servant to Spurs since his arrival in 2014. What he lacks going forward he makes up for in defence, being arguably a sturdier defender than his Spanish counterpart, to the point where he was occasionally utilised as a centre-back by Jose Mourinho earlier on in the season.

With that said, it is clear that Davies is our second choice left-back, and it remains to be seen whether that will impact his standing at the club in the future.

Easily our most volatile positions are at centre back this season, a position that has been chopped and changed countless times over the campaign.

For me, our most reliable centre back is Toby Alderweireld. The Belgian has been an ever-present at the heart of our defence for the past few years.

He isn’t the quickest defender in the Premier League, but is a visionary with the ball, often picking out the front three with long balls forward.

He is strong, and although not immune to mistakes, he makes considerably less than some of his defensive teammates, and in my opinion, more than makes up for it with the crucial tackles and blocks he makes in big moments.

Eric Dier seemed to be an ever-present under Jose Mourinho, the Portuguese trusting him in most games at the beginning of the season. But his shift from midfield into the defence hasn’t been smooth sailing.

Dier is prone to mistakes and is often caught ball watching which has lead to goals this season. I remain unconvinced by Dier at centre-back, but he is probably our second best choice given the other players competing for a spot.

Davinson Sanchez has been seen as a risky selection for Spurs fans for a few seasons now. On his day, he is a top-quality defender. Good in the air and as good a reader of the game as you will find, but again, inconsistency prevails.

He has been responsible for many a mistake for us over the years, including this season, perhaps most memorably giving away a penalty against Man United inside the first two minutes at Old Trafford.

We have the advantage of still having Sanchez on our books while he is young, meaning that whatever transfer fee we can get for him will be more than we could get for the likes of Eric Dier. Sanchez is one of the first players I would be looking to move on this summer.

The final two defenders to talk about are Joe Rodon, the Welsh national who joined this past summer from Swansea, and Spurs academy graduate Japhet Tanganga, who burst onto the scene last season.

Both players can be seen as more ‘the future’ of Spurs rather than the present, although Joe Rodon recently enjoyed a run in the first team towards the end of Mourinho’s tenure. 

If I were in charge of Spurs, I would use the remaining games we have this season to further explore these two youngsters’ potential.

By partnering Rodon up with Alderweireld for the remaining Premier League ties, we can combat his relative inexperience with Alderweireld’s wealth of it, and perhaps look to play Tanganga at right-back, a position he played under Mourinho to a decent rate of success.

A first-team centre back needs to be our priority in the summer. We have seemingly missed the boat on Inter Milan’s Milan Skriniar but we need to be in the market for another centre-half this summer or risk losing out on European football altogether next season.

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