The intimate connection between center backs is one of the most important relationships in the game. Pique/Puyol, Ramos/Varane, Ferdinand/Vidic, Alderweirled/Vertonghen, a good backline is almost always synonymous with a strong relationship between center-backs. The departure of our beloved Super Jan has not only left a hole in our hearts but in our backline and it’s one of the largest contributors to Tottenham’s poor run of form over the last few months. Before we dive into what we think is Tottenham’s best defensive partnership, let’s take a quick look at the options to choose from.
Toby Alderweireld: Age 32
- Positives – Experience, Positioning, Leadership
- Negatives – Speed, Misses Jan Too Much
Eric Dier: Age 27
- Positives – Mentality, Aerial Prowess, Free Kicks
- Negatives – Speed, Mistakes
Davinson Sanchez: Age 24
- Positives – Speed, Strength, Aerial Prowess
- Negatives – Poor Decision Making, Mistakes
Joe Rodon: Age 23
- Positives – Can Play RCB or LCB, Well Rounded, Welsh Mafia
- Negatives – Inexperienced
Japhet Tanganga: Age 21
- Positives – Physical, Reads Game Well, Attitude
- Negatives – Young & Inexperienced
One of the toughest parts of analyzing our defensive performance over the season is how up and down it has been. Approaching the end of 2020, we were flying at the top of the table with a scintillating attack and a seemingly strong and somewhat consistent defense. Eric Dier quickly developed into Mou’s golden boy and seemed to be the first name on the teamsheet for a few months. We all love Eric Dier, and he loves us, but deep down we know his limitations. What he lacks in speed he makes up for in intensity, which ultimately is his downfall. He’s strong, good in the air, and you’d back him in a fight against any other CB in the prem. The problem is that his aggressive nature makes him prone to bonehead mistakes (miss you Kyle Walker) which is just unacceptable as a CB.
While most of us supporters wanted to believe the resurrection of Eric Dier was upon us, deep down we knew it wouldn’t last. Not only is Dier a very limited player, but none of our other CB’s really partner well with him. Toby and Dier are both too slow together leaving us vulnerable to counters. Sanchez and Dier are both too error-prone, unable to make up for each other’s mistakes, and never seem well-positioned in relation to each other. And finally, a pairing with Rodon or Tanganga is too fresh to really judge and understand.
Over the years Eric Dier has been a very versatile servant to Tottenham Hotspur. Putting in quality performances at CDM, RB, and serving as acceptable cover for our dearly missed Belgian backline partnership. But Dier must be seen for what he really is, a limited defender, who we can’t be relied on if Spurs want to compete with the top sides in Europe. He’s capable of rotation at CB while we sort out better options, but ultimately not worth building a team around.
Alongside Jan, Toby was part of one of the best CB partnerships in Europe for some time and a crucial piece to Pochettino’s success at the club. He’s far and away our most experienced defender, but the wrong side of 30 and it’s very clear that his best days are behind him. Toby’s still the most complete CB at the club, but his speed and physicality just can’t keep up with what we need. Toby’s a capable stopgap and should be started every game he can this season, but this should be his final season with Spurs as a nailed-on starter.
The Colombian international has had a very up and down experience in North London. His transfer from Ajax was our club record at that time and his meteoric rise to European football happened so quickly it’s hard to believe he was playing for Atletico Nacional in Medellin in 2016.
Sanchez is by far the most physically gifted CB in our stockade. He’s quick, strong, tall, good in the air, and a strong tackler. All of his physical attributes are in line with the making of a top-class center-back, but why has he struggled to ever really find his form at Spurs.
More than any position on the pitch, center-backs need minutes to get comfortable in their role. While Jan and Toby’s immense partnership over the years was great for Tottenham, it was a big inhibitor for Sanchez’s development. CB substitutions are rare, so barring an injury to one of the Belgians or the odd Cup match, Davinson hasn’t had too many long runs in the team of consistent playing time. This is arguably the first season Sanchez had the opportunity to make the RCB position his own, but early season mistakes and Dier’s decent run of form saw him in and out of the team like always.
Another key element to Sanchez’s lack of consistency at Spurs is his age. Sanchez is only 1 year older than Joe Rodon, but while the Welshman is judged as a prospect and forgiven for his mistakes at such a young age, Davinson receives harsh criticism whenever he makes an error. Here’s a list of current squad players who are OLDER than Davinson Sanchez.
- Dele Alli
- Harry Winks
- Lo Celso
The players listed above often get a pass of judgment as they are still somewhat young and developing, yet CB’s peak at a far older age. Rodon or Reguilon get judged as ‘kids’ by some of the fans when in reality they are younger by only 1yr and 6mos respectively. Even with his faults, I still believe he’s got by far the highest ceiling in terms of potential at the CB position and must have more consistency in playing time.
Sanchez & Alderwereild
While after our recent demolition of Burnley, it’s easy to jump to conclusions that Davinson/Toby is our best CB pairing, but it’s also crucial to truly understand the value we have in the Colombian. Toby’s mental side of the game compensates for Sanchez’s weaknesses. Conversely, the Colombian’s physical attributes cover Toby’s decline. While Rodon and Tanganga show promise and deserve minutes in cup games and as cover, my belief is the only hope we have of developing some sort of consistent security at the back is to start Toby/Davinson together whenever possible. Sanchez is an expensive, depreciating asset and we need him to get minutes to either increase his value in the shop window or decide whether he has the ability to cement a more permanent place in our backline.
The Future of Spurs Defence
Last summer we all let ourselves dream a little bit. The prospect of bringing in a hardened defender from the Eastern Bloc, was exciting and very much needed. While Skrinar was more likely a pipedream than a reality, the question remains what to do with our backline next summer. While chasing top 4, trying to win Europa, or a Carabao cup are still very important, I think fleshing out what to do with our CB stockade is of equal importance. Sanchez will be 25 this summer, meaning he still retains significant value, but for how long.
Do we sell Sanchez, give him more time, or try to buy a partner for him?