On the 8th of July, Tottenham completed a transfer of a player who seemed to solve one o their biggest problem, a problem that had persisted for several seasons. Toby Alderweireld could be the man to solve Tottenham’s defensive frailties. For years Tottenham never had an effective settled defensive partnership, either through the inability to partner quality with more quality, or, more often, through Tottenham’s ability to find and sign decent defenders who were completely incapable of staying fit. Finally, we have a quality durable centre back to partner our best, if slightly clumsy at times, defender, Vertonghen.
Much has been talked about their previous partnerships, both at Ajax and for the Belgian national team, and their understanding of each other’s roles and abilities as a result of these and the fact that Alderweireld prefers to play on the right side of the two, whereas Vertonghen prefers the left. Much has also been mentioned of Alderweireld’s successful and error free, which should aid Vertonghen’s occasional defensive mishap, first season in the Premier League at Southampton. Both these points of conversation are why many believe Toby will continue to be a success at Tottenham and why Tottenham have found their solution to their biggest ongoing problem (excluding the striker issue). But has his signing solved another issue, our midfield, and could he potentially save us a further hefty transfer fee?
I am of the belief that clubs should play their best players in their best positions, which means I am also of the belief that Alderweireld should be first and foremost our starting centre back. But with the ongoing rumours of Spurs being interested in another defensive midfielder, following the midfield summer exodus at Spurs (Paulinho, Stambouli and Capoue), could he fill in when needed?
At the time of writing the ever-changing options seem to be Christoph Kramer as first choice and Sven Bender as second. Both are expected to cost Tottenham at least £10 million while not being guaranteed to improve Tottenham’s starting 11. Even if we were to sign one of these two would anyone be surprised if they were still second choice to the Tottenham’s current first choice defensive midfielder, the constantly improving Bentaleb. Or would anyone prefer to play one of these two instead of Ryan Mason, possibly disrupting the fine balance between our defence and attack and losing the link between the two. Do we want to go back to having two defensive holding midfielders and not being able to transition quick enough between defence and attack, something which Mason, who rightly or wrongly has his critics, undoubtedly improved at Tottenham last year.
I for one would be upset to see the breakup of this partnership. I believe they improved throughout the season as they got to understand the premier league (it was their first full season in the first team) each other (it was also their first season playing alongside each other) and their manager (yet another first for them). You would expect them to continue to improve this season and that is why I would like to see them continue to be together and not disrupt their partnership as a result of signing another midfielder.
However, with all these midfielders currently leaving Tottenham, maybe we are looking at bringing in some depth to this shrinking and inexperienced midfield, with only Dembélé having proper Tottenham experience to fill the void in the case of injury or suspension, luckily there is no African Cup of Nations this year. If we are looking at another defensive midfielder as a backup option, why can’t we use Alderweireld as this backup option? After all there are many benefits.
He is no stranger to this position, he filled in admirably for Wanyama and Schneiderlin last year when they were absent. Koeman even praised him for his versatility and ability to cover this position.
If Bentaleb were to be unavailable, with Alderweireld’s versatility, defensive understanding, strength and ability on the ball, you would expect him to succeed here as he did previously and you would not expect Tottenham to suffer as a result. He would still be able to cover the defenders when the team is defending and when they are attacking would allow our wingbacks to attack as he would fit perfectly into the temporary back three.
If it were to be Mason who was unavailable, the inclusion of Alderweireld sitting in front of the two defenders would give Bentaleb more licence to get forward where he rarely looked out of place, the cross for Kane’s winner against Arsenal for example.
Alderweireld’s temporary inclusion into the midfield would free up a centre back position for either of our two young defenders, Dier and Wimmer, allowing them more League experience while still having a strong and capable defensive midfielder marshalling and covering them from in front.
In signing another midfielder, our young centre midfielders who may be looking to break into the team this year, namely Carroll and Alli, may be pushed further down the order and won’t get given the time and experience they need to improve. In the case of Carroll you tend to think this is his last chance to impress at Spurs and fulfil his promise that was laid on him early in his career.
But perhaps most importantly, Tottenham would save themselves roughly £10 million on signing a new defensive midfielder, £10 million that could aid us in securing a quality striker, thus strengthening our other ‘problem’ position.
Could the signing of Alderweireld help Tottenham strengthen in every position then? Defence? His inclusion in the team as a centre back alongside Vertonghen certainly improves Tottenham. Midfield? Although not directly improving the first choice midfield partnership, his versatility improves Tottenham’s back up options in this position. Attack? By potentially saving Tottenham a transfer fee on another midfielder, this theoretical fee could be used to improve our attacking options.
By Michael Fordham
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