Now that we're halfway through the season, we at Cartilage Free Captain have been discussing and handing out some midseason awards. We've already discussed the Most Valuable Player and the Most Improved Player. But while the core of the team has remained the same since last season, there have been some additions to the team, both purchases and internally. So let's talk about which new addition has had the most impact for Spurs this half-season.
Toby Alderweireld (Jake Meador)
If you asked the typical Premier League fan to name the three most important players to Spurs surprise start to this campaign, they'd likely say Harry Kane, Dele Alli, and either Mousa Dembele or Eric Dier. While those players have all been vital parts of a much improved Spurs side, it's easy to forget the club's ever-present Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld.
Evaluated only as an individual, Alderweireld has been excellent. He reads the game well, knows when to retain possession and when to push the ball forward, and doesn't make many defensive gaffes of the sort that have plagued Spurs for many years. He's also a fantastic threat on set pieces.
That said, his biggest impact is almost certainly seen in how he has transformed the entire Spurs defense. When playing alongside a good defensive partner, Jan Vertonghen is a border-line elite defender. In his first season at the club when he played alongside a pre-injury Younes Kaboul Vertonghen looked a great player and was even being linked with moves to Barcelona or larger English clubs. But since that first season Vertonghen has looked a shadow of that player. Not only did his attacking game basically disappear, he also began making silly defensive mistakes, and generally showed a lack of interest that had many Spurs fans, myself included, concerned about his potential effect on the dressing room.
The arrival of his compatriot and former defensive partner at Ajax has reinvigorated Vertonghen. Though he isn't scoring like he did in his first season with the club, he has looked much improved defensively. His aggressive style that often sees him charge forward to break up an attack before it begins has been more effective this year both because of Vertonghen's improved form and because the presence of Alderweireld behind him means that a missed challenge will not necessarily spell disaster.
If you told anyone at the start of the season that at the end of 2015 Tottenham would have England's best defensive record, they likely would have laughed at you. Last year's team was a dumpster fire defensively. But thanks to the addition of Alderweireld this year's Tottenham side is England's best defensively and may well be the best defensive team of the Premier League era for Tottenham.
Dele Alli (Dustin Menno)
We've said this before, but it's been amazing to watch Dele Alli's impact on this Tottenham Hotspur side. It's somewhat unusual to see top-tier clubs like Spurs delve into the lower leagues to find emerging talent, but that's exactly what Tottenham did when they snapped up Alli from MK Dons for £5m a year ago. And now, it seems like everybody is scouting the Football League now, looking for the "new Dele Alli." That's pretty impressive for a 19-year old kid.
Alli's statistics are fantastic for someone so young: four goals and three assists in 24 total appearances. He has completed 78% of his passes, which is great considering that more and more he's being asked to be progressive and create chances while also pressing and helping to break up play. And while I normally scoff at using nebulous terms like this, Alli also adds extra toughness and, dare I say it, grit to the midfield that has been absent in recent years. (It also gets him a good number of yellow cards, but never mind that.)
Alli adapted to both Pochettino's style of play and the rigors of the Premier League remarkably quickly, enough so that he's rightfully keeping more established players like Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb on the bench. Few if any new faces on the squad have had the impact that Dele Alli has, and he's already showing signs of becoming a Tottenham Hotspur midfield monster.
Son Heung-Min: It seems a bit unfair that Son ends up in the Honorable Mentions category considering how excited we all are about his contributions and his potential. The short answer is, though, that a combination of injury and tactical subs have meant that we haven't yet seen what all Sonny can do. He's clearly a phenomenal talent, but an early injury hampered his progress, and Poche seems to be treating him more like Harry Kane's backup rather than a starting inside forward. It's not a matter of improvement for Sonny – it's a matter of getting extended minutes. He'll get there, but it's not enough to crack this category yet.
Clinton N'Jie: Spurs' new Cameroonian attacker offers something that few other players can bring to the side: directness and blazing speed. Currently he's young, raw, and injured, but he has a lot of potential that could blossom into something really special. At the moment, however, he's a younger, more exciting Andros Townsend. There are reasons to be optimistic, but Clinton's not quite there yet.
Kieran Trippier: It's credit to the resurgence of Kyle Walker that we really haven't seen what Trippier can do in this Spurs side. We got a glimpse on Saturday when Kieran put in his best performance in a Spurs shirt, but he's a long-term replacement for Walker. Trips is an accomplished crosser of the ball but doesn't Walker's speed. He's young enough that I think we can expect a good future from him.
Josh Onomah: Joshy is the latest academy product to get solid reserve minutes with the first team, and he's impressed in the cameos he's made. He's direct, fast, and not at all awed by the prospect of playing in Spurs' senior team. It's been a lot of fun seeing what he can do.
Kevin Wimmer: The few times we've seen the hulking Austrian defender in action this season he's looked good. But when you're stuck behind Janby Vertonghweireld, there's not much you can do. Wimmer offers a different look to the CBs ahead of him: he's less mobile than the Belgians but is super strong and has a good positional awareness.