Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Premier League's Best Centre Back?

Last season Southampton had the second best defensive record, conceding just 33 goals in 38 games. This season Ronald Koeman’s side have been less assured at the back (although that may have been in some part due to Fraser Forster’s absence; since his return Southampton have kept three clean sheets) and have shipped 24 goals in 23 games. In the summer Southampton tried to secure the permanent signing of Toby Alderweireld from Atletico Madrid, the Belgian defender had impressed during his loan spell and had been a large part of their good defensive record.

However, Alderweireld instead joined Tottenham on a permanent basis and since then has not missed a minute of football in the Premier League for Mauricio Pochettino’s side. Alderweireld has formed a strong partnership with his countryman Jan Vertonghen, who has also featured in every Premier League game for Spurs this season.

It’s been easy to overlook the steady progress of Tottenham this season with Chelsea and Manchester United self-destructing to varying degrees and Watford and Leicester continuing to win the plucky underdog plaudits. Even when Spurs have been gaining exposure it’s been almost exclusively for their attacking play, with Harry Kane and Delle Alli getting most of the headlines.

However, as good as their attacking play has been Tottenham also deserve credit for their defensive work. They have conceded just 19 goals this season, the best record in the league and have lost only three games (only Leicester can better that record).  

It’s worth noting that bar the inclusion of Alderweireld the Tottenham defence has been largely unchanged from last season, Pochettino’s first choice back four this season has been Walker – Vertonghen – Alderweireld –Rose, in the 2014/15 campaign it was Walker – Vertonghen – Fazio – Rose. Last season Tottenham conceded 53 goals, barring a defensive capitulation they will better that total by some distance this time around and whilst some of the difference could be ascribed to the defensive stability that Eric Dier and Mousa Dembele have offered in front of the back four I think a lot of it is down to Alderweireld.

He is accomplished on the ball, capable of playing accurate long balls out of defence, which have allowed Spurs to launch quick, incisive counter attacks. In fact Alderweireld has 2 assists to his name so far this season, more than any other centre back (and the same amount as Eden Hazard). As well as the cultured side to his game, Alderweireld is still very strong physically and powerful in the air, as you would expect from a centre back.  

Alderweireld averages 1.7 tackles and 2.3 interceptions per game, the latter figure is indicative of a player who is capable of reading the game well, putting himself in a position where he doesn’t necessarily need to make a tackle. Alderweireld is also a very clean tackler, he has picked up just one yellow card so far this season and of centre backs to have played more than five games only John Terry, Ramiro Funes Mori and Phil Jagielka have commited less fouls per game (Terry and Funes Mori 0.2 fouls per game, Jagielka and Alderweireld 0.3 fouls per game).      

With the also impressive Jan Vertonghen set to miss a chunk of the remainder of the campaign after damaging his medial ligament in the victory over Palace Tottenham fans should rest assured that their defensive is in good hands with Alderweireld at its heart. 

Statistics courtesy of

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