5 Tottenham Hotspur Players Who Need a Strong Start in Jan Vertonghen's Absence
Tottenham’s opening match on the rain-sodden Hong Kong pitch was eventually played out in an abridged format (40 minutes per half) despite fears over player safety.
These fears came to fruition as the Belgian centre-back lost his footing on the slick surface early on in the second half—damaging his ankle ligaments in the process.
The resulting news that Vertonghen will be sidelined for 2-3 weeks comes as a considerable blow to Tottenham’s rear guard.
Vertonghen’s injury serves to highlight the threadbare nature of the Spurs’ back line, with the somewhat surprising departure of Steven Caulker and the ongoing fitness concerns over Younes Kaboul compounding the issue. It’s definitely an area of concern that needs to be rectified in the transfer market. And fast.
However, defensive partnerships require time to gel and flourish, so it’s imperative that others in the lily-white cohort act accordingly to compensate for the absent centre-back.
Let’s take a look at the five players most likely to take up that mantle.
The acquisition of Hugo Lloris was in part necessitated by the arrival of André Villas-Boas and his high-pressure ideology; a philosophy that demands a keeper of his ilk—agile, intelligent and adept with both feet.
The French No.1 is arguably Spurs’ 5th defender; a constantly alert presence in the 18-yard box, ready to pounce on the ball should it encroach into his territory.
His proficiency for anticipating and neutralising defence-splitting through balls ensures the space on the centre-backs’ blindside is difficult to exploit—an invaluable safety net.
Without Vertonghen’s imposing presence in the heart of defence it’s crucial that Lloris asserts his authority—especially from set-pieces—in the opening fixtures against Crystal Palace and Swansea City.
A couple of decisive, commanding performances from Lloris would instill confidence in the makeshift back four—a confidence which should ripple through the team, and be reflected in their respective outputs.
Passion, courage and heart—three qualities that Spurs’ longest-serving player possesses in abundance.
Deemed surplus to requirements—and subject to a £9 million bid from QPR—Dawson elected to stay and fight for his position in the team, a wise decision.
It’s testament to the man’s character that he was determined to prove his worth to AVB and forge a path back into the starting eleven.
Every team needs a Michael Dawson—someone who can reinvigorate their teammates with a rousing call-to-arms, someone that loves the shirt.
In Vertonghen’s absence Dawson needs to display these characteristics, while exercising vigilance in terms of positional awareness.
No trademark kamikaze tackles, please Daws’.
I loath to recite such a well-worn footballing cliché, but Sandro’s return to the side, after a seven-month hiatus, will feel remarkably like a new signing.
Injury struck the midfield general at a time when his partnership with Moussa Dembele—a perfect amalgam of tenacity and guile—was being lauded as one of the Premier League’s finest.
Thankfully, Sandro is edging ever closer to a full return to the first team. A welcome relief for Spurs fans that have had to endure the—at times, incessant—pirouetting of his stand-in Scott Parker.
The Crystal Palace game may arrive too early in the Brazilian’s recovery programme, but AVB will be optimistic of a reintroduction against Swansea—providing much-needed cover for the weakened defence.
Spurs’ midfield last season, like many a season prior, lacked a clinical edge in the final third. To illustrate that fact, Parker, Dembele and Sandro contributed a paltry two goals between them.
This shortcoming was partially compensated for by Vertonghen’s tendency to chip in with a goal or two (four, in fact). On more than one occasion last season, Vertonghen exhibited the poise and composure of a seasoned No.9 in front of goal—the first goal at Swansea immediately springs to mind.
Could Paulinho’s arrival at the club represent a solution to this deficiency? According to Colin Young of the Daily Mail, he’s "a box-to-box midfielder, with an eye for goal," which certainly fulfills the desired remit.
Rest assured, if he gets off to a flying start next season, he’ll quickly evolve into a fan favourite.
There were only nine clean sheets on Spurs’ 2012-13 defensive record, which suggests that AVB’s style of play is not entirely conducive to keeping the opposition quiet.
With that in mind, it’s important that Tottenham’s new No.9, Roberto Soldado, locates his shooting boots quickly—to remedy any lapses in concentration from Tottenham’s rearguard.
There’s no doubting the striker’s pedigree; 59 goals in 101 games for Valencia is a formidable record that speaks volumes of his natural finishing ability.
It just remains to be seen—as with any foreign import—how rapidly he will adapt to the unique pressures and tempo of the Premier League.
I’m inclined to agree with Michael Cox of ESPN.com, who argues that "Roberto Soldado's skills at volleying make him perfectly suited for Andre Villas-Boas' system at Tottenham."
Volleys supplied from the flanks by a certain Welshman? Let’s hope so.