Why Jan Vertonghen Is Key to Tottenham Hotspur Success This Season
Performances in attack from the likes of Nacer Chadli and Erik Lamela drew most of the headlines and plaudits. The often-scintillating Spurs display was built on the less-acclaimed dominant work Vertonghen and his fellow defenders did stifling QPR's own forward men.
Of those other defenders, new signing Eric Dier has certainly stood out this season with his assured manner at both ends of the pitch. Younes Kaboul and Danny Rose both played well this past Sunday, too.
The sight of a sharp, motivated Vertonghen playing so well was perhaps most positive here for Spurs.
Hugo Lloris' continued reliability in goal and the creativity of last season's main man Christian Eriksen will be crucial to the progress of Mauricio Pochettino's team this season.
With improvements in defence a must for Spurs to better their 2013-14 campaign, however, it is Vertonghen who is key to any forthcoming success.
Helping Solidify Spurs' Left Side
The arrival of Ben Davies from Swansea City means Vertonghen is less likely to be needed at left-back this season. Danny Rose has been kept on, while Zeki Fryers is also available, if needed.
After underlining his attributes in the position in a fine World Cup campaign with Belgium, it could be argued Vertonghen is Tottenham's best option there. That ship seems to have sailed as far as his immediate club future is concerned, with his use at centre-back not surprising given his aptitude there.
Vertonghen still has a key role in shoring up Spurs' left-hand side, however.
While not up against as direct a threat as West Ham United's Stewart Downing posed on opening day, Rose looked more comfortable on Sunday with Vertonghen alongside him at centre-back.
The Belgian was there a couple of times in the first 15 minutes to cover for Rose, veering out left to make an interception and later block an attempted cross.
In the 28th minute, there was a moment that typified Vertonghen's good judgement, working in tandem with his full-back. Initially, he went out to occupy vacant space as QPR attacked. As Rose got back, Vertonghen backtracked centrally and a few seconds later was on hand to tackle Loic Remy who had ventured into the Spurs penalty area.
Just who Pochettino will decide is his first-choice left-back will become apparent in the coming months. Rose and Davies are both young and talented but not yet, at least, so dominant as to be in complete control of their flank.
Vertonghen continuing to provide solid back-up there will only aid the development of whoever does play.
Filling the Leadership Void
The departure of Michael Dawson to Hull City means Tottenham losing a leader who has been a prominent part of their defence for the best part of the last decade.
Kaboul and Lloris have both worn the captain's armband in Dawson's absence already this season. Sky Sports believe a move for Sevilla defender Federico Fazio is being negotiated as Spurs seek to make the numbers work at centre-back.
They are all moves that could make Dawson leaving a nonissue. Still, with one of Spurs' most experienced players departing, the need for others to fill the leadership void in a squad that skews even younger this year is a must.
As a player likely to feature at centre-back on a regular basis, Vertonghen will naturally assume part of the workload in defence. In this regard, it was good to see him actively organising as Spurs defended a couple of set plays against QPR (though Steven Caulker getting free on a couple of them shows the need for the team to work at this together).
With two years' experience in England now under his belt, not to mention ample preceding work with Ajax and his recent major tournament exploits with Belgium, the 27-year-old is also well placed to take a lead role in the squad as a whole.
There are others who have been through plenty, too. But Vertonghen's position at the heart of the team, and indeed his stature (on his best days), places an extra onus on him to be assertive.
Setting the Tone on the Back and Front Foot
One good game does not make a season, of course. Against Limassol in the Europa League last week, Vertonghen was certainly rusty to begin with as he made his return.
Last season showed he is not perfect either (though he was certainly not alone in this regard). Even players of his overall quality are susceptible to bouts with injury and poor form.
The commanding nature of Vertonghen's display against QPR bodes well, though. Harry Redknapp's side may not have posed much of a threat, but they were not allowed to either.
In addition to his work covering the left-hand side, Vertonghen was also a forceful presence centrally—both at the back and on a couple of occasions going forward, too.
Referee Anthony Taylor preposterously judged it as a foul, but Vertonghen made a sliding tackle on Remy on the halfway line seven minutes in that set the tone for the comprehensive nature of Spurs' control of the QPR attack.
Not long after, he was first out of defence to jump on the away side's hesitation following a corner kick, and he launched a counter-attack that almost resulted in him freeing Emmanuel Adebayor through on goal.
Starting with Liverpool this weekend, Vertonghen and his fellow defenders will be tested by a better calibre of forward—not to mention more resistance to their own desire to hurt opposition teams, too.
A Vertonghen on his game does have it in him to stop the Premier League's best attackers, as well as play a crucial part in instigating the tempo and direction of his team's work going forward.
Spurs will need him to, because if he does not, it is hard to see anyone else doing so.