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Toby Alderweireld had a fantastic season for Tottenham that feels like a slight regression

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Toby was amazing for Spurs. And he wasn’t even the best defender on the team.

Swansea City v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images

Cartilage Free Captain is reviewing the players of Tottenham Hotspur and how they performed in the 2016-17 Premier League season. Here’s the review of Belgian center back Toby Alderweireld.

Toby Alderweireld

Appearances: 39 (30 PL, 4 FA Cup, 3 CL, 2 EL)
Goals: 2 (1 PL, 1 CL)
Assists: 0
Cards: 2 yellow, 0 red

What went right?

Say whatever else you want about Toby Alderweireld, but by talent he is the best defender on Tottenham Hotspur’s roster. He showed again how important he is to the success (or failure) of Spurs by putting in another outstanding defensive season. He started every match but one this season for Spurs in which he was healthy, and time and time again was the anchor around which Tottenham’s defense revolved. Spurs conceded the fewest goals of any team in the league, and only nine at White Hart Lane.

And Toby was, for the most part, outstanding. Let’s put it this way: despite being quite literally the last line of defense for Spurs against some very very good teams, Toby didn’t pick up his first yellow card of the season until the Week 25 loss to Liverpool. And that was one of only two cards he picked up all season in all competitions. Toby was adept at using his positioning and deceptive speed to cut off opposition attacks, and wasn’t afraid to put a tackle in. Meanwhile, he only committed 0.3 fouls per 90 minutes in all competitions. That’s astounding defensive work.

Toby also thrived in Spurs’ back three with Jan Vertonghen and Eric Dier, starting either in the center of defense or as a right sided CB. He didn’t range forward very often -- he left that more for Jan Vertonghen and occasionally Eric Dier — but his ability to ping long balls out of the back and over the midfield for players like Kane, Alli, and Son to run onto were a huge asset this season. When Toby was out injured for a few weeks, Spurs looked a little flat in his absence, and the loss of those diagonal balls were one reason why.

What went wrong?

WARNING: I’m being super, duper picky here, and it’s probably not entirely fair. That is, however, the point of this section.

As good as Toby was (and he was very, very good), there’s a part of me that feels like he took the smallest of steps backwards this season, especially late in the year. Everyone makes mistakes, and we’re honestly just not used to seeing Toby make them. But there were a couple of times, especially late in the season, where a clumsy tackle or an unlucky deflection led to a dangerous chance or a goal for one of Spurs’ opponents. The most egregious example came in the FA Cup semifinal, where Toby’s ill-timed tackle led to a Willian free-kick just outside of Spurs’ box, which he promptly buried, but there were a few — not many, mind! — smaller examples where Toby just didn’t quite seem himself.

Maybe I’m being overly critical (hint: I am) based on his normally insane defensive record, or maybe this perception is in part in comparison to Jan Vertonghen’s Player of the Season caliber year. The best part of being critical of Toby in this case is that even if he did take the tiniest of steps back, he’s still one of, if not the, best center backs in the Premier League, and he was utterly brilliant the entire season. It’s like giving your best student an A+ instead of an A++.

Sorry, Toby.

What now?

The biggest question hanging over Toby Alderweireld this offseason is his contract. There were murmurs earlier this year that he has a release clause in his current deal that expires in 2019 (but that only kicks in if Spurs trigger a one-year extension), and that he was stalling on signing a new contract. That led to predictable worries that he might be unhappy, or that he’s holding out for another big payday.

There’s probably nothing much to worry about here, but Toby was one of the few Spurs stars that did not get an improved deal this past season, mostly because he just signed in 2015. That said, Toby’s on pretty low wages now and it would be in his and the club’s best interest to get him on a new deal with a hefty pay rise that’s commensurate with the absolutely immense performances he’s put in for the club the past two seasons. That would solve two problems: it would keep Toby happy, and finally put these rumors to bed. There’s plenty of time to work that out, and it’s probably nothing to fret over.

Barring anything catastrophic happening this summer, it’s nailed on that Toby and Vertonghen will continue to partner in Spurs’ back line at least for one more season. He might have a new teammate with him in the back three (assuming Pochettino doesn’t continue to use Dier), but either way he’s going to be turning away big chances and powering in headers for a good while yet.

Rating: 4.5 Chirpys