Wembley Stadium erupted when Harry Kane scored the fourth goal against Liverpool on October 22nd. Spurs were finally going to beat Mauricio Pochettino’s bogey team, and the stadium sounded their appreciation...but not everyone was happy.
As Kane and company celebrated, Jan Vertonghen had his hands on his head in the background, and with good reason. His initial shot off the free-kick was cleared off the line and right into Kane’s path for the easy tap-in. Kane scores all the time, but despite many close calls Jan hasn’t scored since March of 2013.
But Vertonghen’s lack of luck on one end is trivial, because he contributes so much on the other. His performance against Crystal Palace this past weekend is just the latest example.
Paulo Gazzaniga was an unlikely savior on the day, but Spurs don’t win that game without Vertonghen’s heroics too.
As always, Jan was smart on the ball and strong going in for headers, but it was his tackling that really saved Tottenham’s bacon. In the last 12 minutes of the match he single-handedly thwarted four dangerous Palace counter-attacks.
Three of those attacks were led by the speedy Wilfried Zaha, but that didn’t stop Vertonghen. He’s 6’2 and 30-years-old, but the Belgian repeatedly kept pace with Zaha long enough to deliver a perfectly-timed sliding challenge.
The Lilywhites weren’t at their best, but Jan certainly was.
There was a time when Vertonghen was one of the most criticized players in the squad, but that seems like ancient history now. Jan took flak for some of his struggles in 2013/14 and 2014/15, but who wouldn’t struggle when being managed by Tim Sherwood and being partnered in defense with the likes of Younes Kaboul, Federico Fazio, and Vlad Chiriches?
Toby Alderweireld gets a lot of the credit for Tottenham’s defensive improvements since then, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Sure, Toby makes Jan better, but it goes both ways. The two Belgians have tremendous chemistry and unique skill-sets that compliment each other perfectly.
For a central defender, Vertonghen has incredible ball skills. His pace and dribbling technique allows him to play left back, and makes me think he could even manage defensive midfield in an emergency. But it’s his ability to pick a pass that is so underrated.
Whether it’s a a long-ball or one of Jan’s trademark daisy-cutters that bypasses a midfield and finds Kane with a defender on his back, Vert has that incisive quality.
Together, the Belgians form the best center-back pairing in England, but Jan has often had to stand tall in Toby’s absence.
Things looked bleak for Spurs defensively when Alderweireld was forced off with an early injury in the Champions League against Real Madrid. A more inexperienced player might have crumbled at the sight of Cristiano Ronaldo and Isco dribbling right at them, but that’s not Jan Vertonghen. “Super Jan” put forth a MOTM-worthy performance that deserves to be remembered alongside some of the greatest defensive showings in Tottenham’s history.
It was a definitive effort from a player who deserves to be called “world class”. There’s a reason he’s now the most capped Belgian of all time. In my opinion, Jan has been the best defender in England over the past two seasons.
But what really separates Vertonghen from other defenders are his incredible facial expressions.
That’s a man who loves what he does and who he does it with. Never change, Jan. You’ll get that goal someday, and it will be glorious.