Cartilage Free Captain is again reviewing the Tottenham Hotspur first team players after the conclusion of the 2016-17 season. Up next: center back Toby Alderweireld.
Appearances: 38 (30 EPL, 2 UCL, 2 EL, 4 FA Cup)
Clean Sheets (EPL): 14
Goals Conceded (EPL): 17
Bookings (EPL): 1 yellow
What Went Right
Where do you even start? If 2015/16 was the season that Toby Alderweireld established himself as the best center back in the Premier League, this most recent campaign was when he cemented his position in the Premier League Best XI. He’s a player that is rock solid in defense and helps the team in the buildup. But his most important attribute may be his organization and ability to read the game and lead the back line. Like other great players, he makes those around him better. Before his introduction to the side in 2015, Tottenham never looked very comfortable defending. Sure, the team could press and chase the ball, but when the opposition was able to evade the first wave of pressure, Spurs were brittle and skittish in defense. In the Mauricio Pochettino era (he’s Spurs’ longest serving amanger in forever, so I’m calling this an era) Spurs conceded 53 goals B.T. (Before Toby). In the two subsequent seasons, Tottenham has let in 35 and most recently 26 goals. Sure, there are other contributing factors to this improvement, but Alderweireld’s presence surely tops that list.
But this year was a new challenge for Tottenham’s defense as Pochettino transitioned the team to a 3-4-3 near the midway point in the season. In this new setup, Alderweireld had to adjust his game to accommodate a slightly different role. Up until that point, he played as the right sided center half, constantly looking to spray diagonal passes to the left wing. After taking up his central role in the 3-man backline, those opportunities weren’t as frequent since the angle to make that particular pass wasn’t as ideal as it was when he was positioned clearly on the right. Instead, Pochettino had him doing what he does best, which is to serve as a player to organize and cover as the last line of defense. When playing a back three, it’s important to have you’re most composed defender playing in the central position. You don’t want this player to be picking up bookings or being overly aggressive, and Toby fits the bill perfectly in that regard. Amazingly, he only picked up one yellow card all season in the league, and has only been booked 4 times in 68 league games in a Tottenham shirt. This is why he’s frequently compared to Ledley King, who was similarly sharp and composed in defense.
Statistically, Alderweireld is almost identical across the board from his first year at Spurs to last season, except for two key statistics that point to his role as the central defender in the 3-4-3.
Here we can see that Toby was stepping up and cutting out passes far less while tackling much more. It’s quite a luxury we have that he’s so competent at being able to do both of these things equally well.
What Went Wrong
If Toby could avoid this next season, that’d be grrrreat.
In all seriousness, Alderweireld’s nerve damage in his leg that occurred in an match against West Brom on Oct. 15 was really the only downside of his season. The injury caused him to miss 6 Premier League games and all but the first game of Spurs’ Champions League campaign. In all competitions while Toby was sidelined with his leg injury, Spurs went 3-5-4 in all competitions. It was the club’s busiest period of the season, playing midweek games on the continent and domestically almost every week during that stretch. It’s great evidence of his importance to the team. Tottenham will be in serious trouble again this season if Alderweireld misses significant time, because you can’t simply replace his quality.
Seeing how reliant Tottenham are on Toby Alderwiereld’s ability to organize the entire defensive unit, they need to extend his contract. Like, ASAP, please. The Belgian is reportedly yet to receive an offer from the club’s Chairman Daniel Levy, which is strange considering Alderweireld has only 2 years remaining on his four-year contract he signed in the summer of 2015. Now, negotiating the contract wont be easy, as Alderweireld will surely demand a pretty penny seeing as this is likely to be the most lucrative contract of his career.