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Tottenham Hotspur 2016-17 squad preview: Defenders

Despite having the best defense in the Premier League last season, the perception is that Spurs are short on defensive depth. But are they?

Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

We’re less than a week away from the opening of the new Premier League season. Although the transfer window is still officially open through the end of August, the season won’t wait for the window. As Tottenham Hotspur prepare to open their season against Everton at Goodison Park on Saturday, August 13, it’s time to take a detailed look at the various parts of Spurs’ predicted starting lineup.

Right Back

Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier, DeAndre Yedlin, Kyle Walker-Peters

Based on everything we’ve seen up until now, Spurs will roll into the new Premier League season with the same overall hierarchy at right back as they ended last season. Mauricio Pochettino had clear A & B roles, with Kyle Walker preferred as first choice and Kieran Trippier as his primary rotation option. Walker and Trippier are totally different players: Walker is known mostly for his pace and loves to get forward into space and make overlapping runs with the right sided midfielder (usually Erik Lamela). Trippier, by contrast, doesn’t have the pace of Walker, but became known for his crossing ability.

However, we thought that there might be a bit of a positional battle for Walker’s primary backup at the position, as American DeAndre Yedlin has improved notably from the player that went on loan to Sunderland last summer. Yedlin, playing mostly out of position on the left in the preseason, nonetheless looked like a solid competitor, and his skill set is comparable in terms of pace and defensive efficacy as Walker, if not at Walker’s level.

Many think Yedlin should be given a chance. Considering Yedlin was left in London when Spurs traveled to Norway to face Inter, it doesn’t seem like Pochettino agrees. I kind of hope I’m wrong about that.

Kyle Walker-Peters is one of the young players who has been creating a lot of buzz in recent years, but considering who’s ahead of him I don’t see him making any kind of a significant impact with Spurs’ first team this season. He’s one for the future, though.

Left Back

Danny Rose, Ben Davies

This position also seems more or less settled. Nearly all of last season Danny Rose was paired with Kyle Walker, who complements his skill set, while Davies was the second option (or perhaps 1a). I don’t expect this to change. Rose should head into the opening games of the season as the first choice left back, and I expect him to start the match against Everton.

You could argue, perhaps, that Davies could sneak ahead of Rose in certain match-ups where Spurs may want to play more on the defensive side, especially on the road. However, we really haven’t seen Pochettino make that kind of positional substitution; with as often as Spurs’ fullbacks are expected to get forward, Poche tends to rotate them on a match to match basis once the club starts playing more than a game a week.

Central Defense

Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Kevin Wimmer, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Anton Walkes, Dominic Ball

Tottenham Hotspur had a good thing going in the league last season with its Belgian pair of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Alderweireld in particular has been a beast in the back line, providing not only stout defensive acumen but also a threat with long balls out of the back. He’s also a threat around the box, chipping in four goals for Spurs last season, and is very good in the air.

When healthy, Janby Alderweirtonghen is one of the best central defensive partnerships in the league. However, the when healthy thing is pretty critical. As of now, Vertonghen is still recovering from an injury picked up in the Euros, and he missed an extended period of time last season. At 29, Jan probably doesn’t have that many more years left in the tank, and it’s wise for Spurs to look to the future.

The good news is that Kevin Wimmer stepped into the Jan-shaped hole in defense last season and Spurs didn’t miss a beat. So it’s a little puzzling that we haven’t seen more of Wimmer in the preseason. There were reports that Wimmer was nursing both a black eye and a mild injury which could explain his absence. He proved himself last season, and there are plenty of games to go around, so it’s likely we’ll see Wimmer play a role in a number of matches, and more if there are injuries.

That leaves the two youth players in Cameron Carter-Vickers and Anton Walkes. Both were surprise additions to Spurs’ touring squad to Australia and Norway, and both got good run-outs in both games. Carter-Vickers then earned himself an extended audition beside Toby Alderweireld in Spurs’ win over Inter Milan in Oslo. Our verdict was that the 18-year old CCV is not yet ready for prime time, but the best thing form him is to get more games against good competition. Walkes, meanwhile, looked good in his friendly appearances, but it seems a stretch to say that he’s currently ahead even of Carter-Vickers. If Pochettino didn’t tend to use loans more to get rid of players that don’t fit his system, then I’d say Walkes needs one.

The final youth contender, Dominic Ball, didn’t do himself any favors with a pretty disappointing half against Juventus, though he’s coming off of a very good loan with Rangers in the Scottish second division last season. My best guess is he’s set for either another loan or he’ll be sold this summer.

Pochettino has already stated that he’s not planning to bring in defensive reinforcements this summer, signaling that he’s okay with CCV and Walkes coming in if needed. If we see either one of them this season in a meaningful game it’s not great news for Spurs, but if they’re down to their fourth and fifth best central defender, there are serious problems no matter how you look at it. So why not chuck a young defender into the fire?

Note that I am NOT including Eric Dier on this list. His importance to the team as a defensive midfielder probably means that we won’t see him play in central defense unless there’s an emergency. Dier is certainly capable of dropping into defense if needed. After all, he started his career as a defender before making the switch to midfield last season. However, considering the extended trial that Poche gave Carter-Vickers in the preseason, unless he’s changed his mind it seems that Poche thinks the teenager is ready to make the step up.