There has been a lot of second guessing of Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino’s decision to hold Toby Alderweireld out of the squad during last week’s Champions League draw with Juventus. Toby has only played two matches since coming back from a hamstring injury sustained against Real Madrid in November, with both matches coming in the FA Cup.
Predictably, it’s led to a lot of speculation in the media about Alderweireld’s happiness at Tottenham, his ongoing contract negotiations, and his frustration at not playing in big matches now that he’s back in the Tottenham first team.
One person who isn’t upset at the way Spurs are handling Toby’s reintegration into the first team is Belgium manager Roberto Martinez. He told Belgian newspaper HLN that he’s talked to Toby and he’s happy with the way have been been bringing Alderweireld back slowly.
“I recently spoke with Toby [Alderweireld]. First and foremost, I am glad that Tottenham gave him the time to calmly recover from his first 90 minutes back, in the FA Cup against Newport Country. Toby, of course, would have liked to have played against Juventus.
“His situation will take time. Toby has become one of the most consistent central defenders in the Premier League in recent seasons. He gets a lot of attention, especially now that the end of his contract is approaching. But this situation will not affect Toby. He will end up strong by the end of the season.“
Martinez, of course, will be leaning heavily on a healthy Alderweireld to anchor Belgium’s defensive line in this summer’s World Cup in Russia. The last thing that Martinez wants is for one of the best central defenders in the Premier League to re-injure himself.
And frankly, based on the two games we’ve seen from Toby in the FA Cup since his return, it looks like he could use the extra games. He was okay against Newport in his first match back, though he notably didn’t attempt any of his trademark long diagonal passes out of deep. Against Rochdale, however, he looked very un-Tobyish, slipping on the new pitch a couple of times, looking slightly off the pace, and uncharacteristically fluffing a headed clearance that led to Rochdale’s equalizing goal. He looked, in short, like someone who hasn’t played a lot of football since November.
A bad game can be concerning, but we already know Toby’s quality. If anything else, his bad game against Rochdale justifies Poch taking his time bringing him back into the starting XI. And I guess the silver lining is that thanks to the draw, he’ll have another FA Cup against a League 1 opponent to help shake off the cobwebs.
Martinez also had good things to say about Mousa Dembele. Moose has frequently been a reserve player for Belgium in international competition, but his recent performances for Spurs have made Martinez sit up and take notice. Here’s what he said when asked about whether he could overtake Axel Witsel in Belgium’s midfield:
“I like this kind of problem — healthy competition is needed. It is not easy to get into the final 23 and less easy to lock down a starting place. Look, we need guys who are in shape and who show what they can do in difficult times. Nothing [in the World Cup] will be much worse than being down 2-0 to Juventus after ten minutes!
“We all know what Mousa can do, but the timing and the way he did it... Juventus flirts every year with Champions League titles. Well, Moussa took that game in hand. He was the playmaker - we should not underestimate or forget that. It shows how mature he has become.“
”Another important aspect is the fact that Moussa is now fully fit. He no longer has problems with his ankle. If you can’t play 90 minutes every week or are not completely competitive, it will eat you up.“