Jan Vertonghen: Rating His Performance for Spurs so Far
Jan Vertonghen was long pursued by Tottenham Hotspur prior to his eventual signing with them this past June.
If it was not a mutual wooing on par with Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo a few years back, it was at least a process that engendered a certain level of anticipation and expectation going into the Belgian's first game wearing one of world football's other famous white shirts.
Thus far, Tottenham have reason to be generally happy with how the relationship has worked out.
Over the next few pages, Vertonghen's overall performance for the club is examined, as well as a look at what comes next for the versatile defender.
A reputation based almost solely on time spent in the Dutch Eredivisie is not usually the best marker of quality.
However, thus far in his time at Tottenham, Jan Vertonghen has shown the early appraisals of his talent to have been spot on.
For the majority of games Andre Villas-Boas has deployed the 25-year-old at left-back, but whether stationed there or centrally, he has shown qualities that translate to either position.
Vertonghen's timing in the tackle is excellent.
This was most remarkably on display in a goal-denying intervention in the 2-1 win over Queens Park Rangers, when he slid in to dispossess Junior Hoilett in a tackle that was reminiscent of Ledley King's famous challenge on Arjen Robben.
As the defender emerging from Spurs' youth system, Steven Caulker might be the most obvious comparison to make to King, but Vertonghen has a certain style that bares comparison with the former captain.
This is there to see in his tackling, but also in his level of comfort on the ball.
Left-backs are of course expected to have some ability in bringing the ball out (and do so with more frequency), but there is a quietly assured manner to the way Vertonghen does so that is not entirely dissimilar to the way King was on his ventures forward.
Not a heads-down, charge forward type of run you will see with most defenders, but one that is judged to maximize use of possession and genuinely influence a move.
Vertonghen seems to have settled and adjusted well enough (at this early stage) to football in England.
Where there have been issues in regards to Vertonghen (and he is not alone here), it has been in his ability to adhere to the shape and structure of the team, and how they respond when pressured.
Tottenham's worst moments defensively have come through disorganization and a lack of awareness as to what is going on around on them.
Vertonghen has not been one of the worst culprits here, but he has been just as susceptible in these instances and unable to make up for slackness elsewhere.
More positively, Vertonghen has deputized solidly for the injured Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
There have been occasions when he has been left isolated by Gareth Bale, or the Belgian himself has been caught out of position.
Mostly though, Vertonghen has proved a reliable presence there, on hand as an outlet for his teammates and in defending down that left wing.
Spurs' use of wingers means that it is not so imperative that the team's full-backs become (and sometimes instigate) part of attacks.
This is not to say they can't (as seen by Kyle Walker down the right), but Vertonghen is identifiably a supportive left-back rather than one with wing-back tendencies so synonymous with the role of the modern full-back.
Rather than heading to overlap the winger in front of him, he will sit just off of him and judge as appropriate those times he needs to move inside or outside as an option, or remain back.
While Vertonghen and Bale have not quite found a regular chemistry to their partnership down the left flank, it has worked together well enough and on occasion worked extremely well (see their combining for Spurs' opener in the win against Manchester United).
What Comes Next?
Tottenham's most recent game, the 3-1 win over West Ham United, was a far better defensive effort than had been seen of late.
It helped that Spurs were positive and pressurized the Hammers throughout, and neither did they have to contend with the caliber of opposition they had to over the last month.
But they were undeniably better with Michael Dawson at center back ahead of the erratic William Gallas, while the uncertainty of not knowing who would be in goal seems to have gone with Hugo Lloris playing a third game in a row (and performing well once more).
Wednesday night sees them face an altogether different, trickier test in the form of Liverpool and the notorious Luis Suarez.
How Villas-Boas intends to use Vertonghen from here on out has ramifications for the make-up of this defense.
Assou-Ekotto's return to fitness would seem to indicate that Vertonghen could be moved permanently into a central position.
In that case, the question is who should be dropped?
The talented but still-green Steven Caulker? Dawson, who's leadership and underrated defensive play is so valuable? Or is Villas-Boas planning to bring Gallas back in?
Or, it might work out that Vertonghen becomes the first-choice left-back.
The Liverpool game will give a good idea of the future plans in regards to this team, in the form of who is started and how those that are selected contend the threat provided by Suarez and Liverpool's other attackers.
Though Vertonghen's presence does give his manager a selection headache, it is one the Portuguese will ultimately be glad for.