Is Kevin Wimmer the Right Man to Replace Jan Vertonghen at Tottenham?

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Is Kevin Wimmer the Right Man to Replace Jan Vertonghen at Tottenham?
Stephen Pond/Getty Images
Kevin Wimmer has done well so far covering the injured Jan Vertonghen in Tottenham Hotspur's central defence.

Let us get the disclaimer out of the way: The following article is not an endorsement of ending Jan Vertonghen's Tottenham Hotspur stay or an indication Kevin Wimmer is going to be required to permanently replace his fellow centre-back in the immediate future.

Vertonghen's absence—caused by the medial collateral ligament injury suffered against Crystal Palace in January—is giving us a look at what that could look like, however.

With Tottenham players well aware good form trumps past achievements, Wimmer challenging his vice-captain for his starting spot is not beyond the realms of possibility.

Opportunities and Contracts

Michael Regan/Getty Images
Mousa Dembele's contract status at Tottenham has recently been clarified. Could his fellow Belgium international's soon be sorted too?

Wimmer is three starts into deputising for the elder defender. His so-far solid work besides Toby Alderweireld is the latest example of head coach Mauricio Pochettino's success utilising his resources this season.

Up until his introduction during the win over Palace, last summer's signing from Cologne had featured just five times.

Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images
Wimmer made his Tottenham debut in the team's 3-1 Europa League win over Qarabag in September.

That none of these appearances occurred in the Premier League was testament to the strong partnership established between Belgium internationals Alderweireld and Vertonghen. Maintaining that contribution to the division's meanest defence (Spurs have conceded just 19 goals) meant sporadic cup appearances had to suffice for Wimmer's early development (in the public eye at least).

"Toby and Jan are really good players and I can learn a lot from them," he told Tottenham's official website in December. Though he also noted: "Of course, I hope that I will play more games soon but there is still plenty of time."

The 23-year-old is at the entry level of all this. Naturally, Pochettino's mostly fair, generally strategic approach to squad rotation has extended to more senior squad members too.

One such player is Mousa Dembele.

Prior to this season, his status was uncertain. After a patchy 2014-15, the versatile midfielder was even linked with a transfer away.

Instead, he has capitalised on opportunities this term to again become a vital part of the team. His revitalisation was confirmed when he was awarded a new contract in late January.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Wimmer's lack of minutes up until recently was understandable given the developed strength of the Vertonghen-Toby Alderweireld central-defensive partnership.

Following his compatriot Dembele's new extension, Vertonghen has been left as one of the only non-academy squad members whose contract situation is in need of some clarifying.

On Vertonghen's arrival from Ajax in 2012, Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf (h/t this helpful supporter-assembled contract database) reported he and Spurs had agreed a four-year contract with an option for a further two. The Times' Gary Jacob backed this up last summer.

Subsequent reports from the Telegraph's Matt Law and, more recently, MailOnline's Sami Mokbel suggest the option has been taken up on. In lieu of an actual announcement, Spurs' lack of action around the matter indicates there is breathing space with regard to the 28-year-old's immediate future.

What Wimmer Offers

Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images
Wimmer is more than willing to take the initiative stepping forward and brings a significant aerial presence to the Tottenham defence.

Wimmer filling a Vertonghen-shaped void beyond this season does not appear to be a pressing matter.

There are encouraging indications he can do so when and if needed, however—be it as long-term cover, a slightly blunter alternative or an eventual replacement.

Wimmer in action for Cologne back in December 2014.

Upon Wimmer's arrival at Tottenham, the club's minimal accompanying detail on the capture from Cologne talked about his being the "standout performer in their first season back in the Bundesliga this year." He was recognised with Alderweireld and Kieran Trippier in Pochettino's transfer window wrap-up at the beginning of September as adding "depth and quality" to a position prioritised for strengthening.

For ESPN FC, Nick Dorrington's more detailed analysis of Wimmer prior to then described his stature, simplicity and "decent pace" as major strengths. Concerns related to a lack of technical prowess and iffy concentration.

So far this campaign just about all of this has come to fruition.

Pleasingly for Spurs, the younger defender appears to be benefiting from his mini-run, the rougher edges looking like they are being smoothed out by the welcome consistency.

Tom Dulat/Getty Images
Mathieu Flamini got a costly jump on Wimmer in Spurs' Capital One Cup defeat to north London rivals Arsenal.

A lack of focus had been a particular worry.

Wimmer's ball-watching contributed to Mathieu Flamini's opener in Spurs' loss to Arsenal in the Capital One Cup last September. Paired with Federico Fazio then, communication was still an issue at times alongside Alderweireld in later appearances versus Monaco and Leicester City.

Wimmer was nervy against Crystal Palace after replacing Vertonghen. What boded well for his imminent cover duty was his understanding of where the defence was almost caught out and the help Alderweireld—who himself had benefited from Vertonghen's marshalling—was attempting to provide.

The Austrian said to Tottenham's website:

It’s never easy to come on as a defender for maybe 15 minutes. You have to be switched on from the first second you come onto the pitch. 

Crystal Palace tried a lot of long balls but, next to me, Toby helped me a lot. We spoke a lot in the game and so it was easier for me when I came on.

Wimmer and Alderweireld's burgeoning understanding will be scrutinised more notably in Spurs' game against Manchester City on Sunday. For now, though, the promising signs of their work on coordination between themselves and those around them has allowed the latter's aforementioned strengths to emerge.

Clive Rose/Getty Images
Wimmer focused and alert ahead of Watford's Odion Ighalo.

Wimmer has ably settled into this starting stint. Beginning with an acceptable afternoon's work helping beat Colchester United in the FA Cup fourth round.

Although a little too insistent at times away at Norwich City (committing three fouls), his improved positioning was the bigger takeaway. Canaries frontmen Dieumerci Mbokani and Steven Naismith were given little room to manoeuvre and Wimmer was not afraid to get forward and clear his lines.

After a relatively quiet first half against Watford on Saturday, Wimmer and Alderweireld had more to deal with following the half-time introduction of the rested Troy Deeney to join Odion Ighalo. The Spurs centre-backs kept things straight to the point, largely dealing with the duo promptly and efficiently.

Competition and Comparison

Michael Regan/Getty Images
Wimmer will hope to be part of the team and its celebrations even more moving forward. Can he displace Vertonghen on a more regular basis?

Wimmer will be further tested by big games such as the one against Man City and plenty more ahead. But proving himself as a solid option for Tottenham is just what will have been hoped for when he signed.

Michael Regan/Getty Images
Wimmer has also played alongside Eric Dier in defence early in 2016, starting cup wins over Leicester City and Colchester United.

As for displacing Vertonghen upon his return and beyond, that is going to take some doing. The similarities and contrasts do give him a shot of doing so if a suitable opportunity arises, though (on-field or otherwise).

A left-footer, Wimmer provides the same natural balance the vice-skipper does beside a right-sider such as Alderweireld or Eric Dier. The past three games have also shown he is willing to take the lead and defend on the front foot—a job Vertonghen takes on when available.

Wimmer can be a little hasty at times, but his general proactive intent is welcome in an aggressive side. His timing in the tackle needs honing, but aerially he is a formidable presence (his overall reactions here will need to be sharp against Man City's manipulative, embarrassment-inducing likes of Sergio Aguero on Sunday).

Wimmer is not as likely to bring the ball out of defence as the Spurs vice-captain. But his passing is tidy and largely purposeful, his average accuracy not dipping below 88 per cent in league and Europa League starts. A tendency to play somewhat complacent balls to his left-back needs addressing, though (there was a particularly ugly pass out to Ben Davies against Colchester).

Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Vertonghen should still be set to lead the way for Tottenham for some time to come.

In Wimmer's favour is a more no-nonsence approach Spurs collectively could do with adopting sometimes. He is happy to play out from the back and, as he showed as his team survived spells of pressure during their FA Cup replay against Leicester, is a little less inclined to meander than others.

For now, the experience—at Tottenham and in general—of a fit and healthy Vertonghen trumps the solid simplicity of Wimmer. If the need should arise, however, the Austria international is showing signs he could be a ready-made replacement.

All statistics via Squawka.

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