News is coming in from the English football media about the severity of Jan Vertonghen’s ankle injury, and it’s not great. The BBC is confirming that Jan sustained ankle ligament damage in Tottenham Hotspur’s 4-0 win over West Bromwich Albion at White Hart Lane on Sunday, and the Telegraph suggests that Vertonghen could be sidelined as long as ten weeks.
Vertonghen is expected to miss at least six weeks, but scans showed the injury is somewhere between grade two and three which means medics believe he may not play again until towards the end of March.
That’s obviously bad news for Spurs. The Telegraph writes that Jan was “devastated” by the injury, which came when Spurs hold the best defensive record in the Premier League and were playing some of their best football of the season.
Losing your best ball-playing defender is never a good thing, but some of Jan’s absence is likely to be mitigated by a combination of Spurs’ center back depth and a schedule that is pretty favorable over the next two and a half months.
There’s already been a lot of discussion in the Carty Free comments over this very issue, but unlike when Toby Alderweireld went down injured early in the season, Spurs have two possible direct replacements for Vertonghen in Kevin Wimmer and Ben Davies.
Wimmer, as we know, was in exactly this situation last season when Vertonghen injured his knee, and the big Austrian slotted in very well during that stretch. However, that was in a back four, and this season Spurs have had great success while playing with three center backs.
In this 3-CB formation, Spurs’ defense relies on the outer two center backs to drift wider to cover, and to be more aggressive to avoid being outnumbered in attack. Jan fit in this role very well, as he is excellent moving forward with the ball. Wimmer is a capable defender and a decent passer, but he’s not the guy you necessarily want moving into midfield with the ball at his feet – he’s more Vlad Chiriches than Vertonghen in that regard.
Ben Davies is the opposite. He’s not a center back, but he did have a pretty decent European Championships this summer while playing as a left sided CB for Wales. Davies’ experience as a left back would also serve him well if he’s tasked with being more direct in possession, but I’m a little concerned about his ability to flat-out defend as part of a back three. We saw him be perfectly cromulent on Saturday as Jan’s replacement, though it came against a demoralized West Brom. Manchester City at the Etihad is a different animal.
Of course, Pochettino could tinker with his back line, moving Eric Dier to the center of the defense and flanking him with Wimmer/Davies and Alderweireld, though doing so would take Toby out of his best position as a defensive anchor. He could also revert to the 4-2-3-1 that Spurs utilized at the beginning of the season and all of last year, though as we’ve seen that creates its own set of problems with regards to Victor Wanyama and Spurs’ midfield. We’ll have to wait and see what Mauricio Pochettino decides to do.
The most immediate concern is this weekend’s match against Manchester City, but Spurs will also be helped during this Jan-less stretch by a schedule that is mostly winnable. Here are Spurs’ upcoming fixtures over the next few weeks:
- @ Man City
- Wycombe (FA Cup)
- @ Sunderland
- @ Liverpool
- @ Gent (Europa)
- Gent (Europa)
- Stoke City
- [Possible Europa Round of 16]
- @ Crystal Palace
- [Possible Europa Round of 16]
- International Break
There are few tricky ties in there to be sure, including a trip to Anfield and home ties against Everton and Southampton, but a lot more winnable games that provide plenty of opportunities for rest and rotation. If Pochettino decides to stay with the three at the back formation, all three of Wimmer, Davies, and Cameron Carter-Vickers should get plenty of game time, but hopefully not at the expense of their overall fitness.
Spurs will no doubt miss Jan Vertonghen, but the calls on social media for Spurs to make an emergency center back signing in January are probably unfounded. Pochettino has options in defense, and a string of decent matches where he can rest key players and rotate.
Will Vertonghen’s absence mean a few matches with dropped points? Possibly, but they should still be a very good defensive unit with Alderweireld and Dier in place to anchor the line. In short, even without Super Jan, Spurs should be able to weather this storm.