Tottenham Hotspur: Why Jan Vertonghen Was Spurs' Star Performer Against Stoke

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistDecember 23, 2012

Stoke City seldom got a look-in when Jan Vertonghen was on the ball for Tottenham Hotspur.
Stoke City seldom got a look-in when Jan Vertonghen was on the ball for Tottenham Hotspur.Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

On a miserable Saturday afternoon in North London that belied the fixture's proximity to Christmas Day, Tottenham Hotspur were held by Stoke City to a 0-0 draw that was heavy on defensive duty and low on festive fun.

It was an intriguing enough battle between two sides of differing styles, but it was not a match that will live long in the memory, especially for Tottenham fans who were hopeful their side could break Stoke down and push on a little in their hunt for a top-four placing.

Spurs' attackers huffed and puffed without success, any moments of potential inspiration were stifled by a Stoke defense well drilled in extinguishing bursts of creativity (Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth were particularly dominant in central defense).

A spirited showing by Sandro was to be commended, but by some distance the home side's most inspired performer was their left-back Jan Vertonghen.

The Belgian was a beacon of light amid considerably drab performances from many of his teammates.

Little came down Vertonghen's flank he was unable to deal with one way or another, either by cleverly harrying any intruders into a position from which he could hustle them off the ball or dispossessing them with cool efficiency.

His yellow card for a mistimed challenge was unwarranted when a warning would have sufficed, and was an undeserved mark on an otherwise spotless day.

It was watching Vertonghen's classy surges forward that most caught the eye as the game progressed, however.

With Benoit Assou-Ekotto's imminent return from injury, the general assumption has been Vertonghen will be moved into central defense—not an unreasonable one considering the quality of both players in their more familiar positions.

Before that does happen, it is worth taking time to reflect on what an impressive performer Vertonghen has been in the position for Spurs so far this season.

Though not flawless, he has been as cultured a full-back the club have possessed for some time, which is not all that surprising considering a substantial part of his football education came at Ajax.

Assou-Ekotto has developed into one of the Premier League's best left-backs, while before him Justin Edinburgh, Mauricio Taricco, Christian Ziege and Lee-Young Pyo (talking over the last 20 years) all were commendable presences at left-back for Spurs, enjoying some fine moments during their respective stays.

Watching Vertonghen on the ball against Stoke, though—the way he anticipated challenges and maneuvered the ball with seeming ease and nerveless control—it was at times a delight to see such a talented footballer put a shift in at full-back.

This is not to disparage the aforementioned former Spurs players—nor others who have made their reputation in the position with other teams—more so to indicate what an exciting prospect it will be to see him apply his abilities in a central defensive position more regularly.

Vertonghen will not have as much freedom to show off in a position that demands more responsibility, but he will become a more integral contributor in setting the tone for Tottenham's overall play.

If nothing else, the Stoke performance was the latest indication of the 25-year-old's development in England, one representative of a player growing in confidence by the week.