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Postecoglou problems: How will Ange address Spurs’ defensive deficiencies?

We got 99 problems, and the defense is definitely one.

Tottenham Hotspur v Chelsea FC - Premier League Photo by Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur have some significant issues with their defense.

Namely, a lack of fit and available defenders. When Spurs sold Davinson Sanchez following the close of the Premier League transfer window, there was a concern that having only three senior center backs, one of who is clearly out of favor, would come back to bite the team.

Well, now the universe is taking a whole damn mouthful. Following the carnage of the Dad Derby™, where Destiny Udogie and Cristian Romero both received red cards and suspensions, and Mickey van de Ven appeared to tear his hamstring, Spurs are left with only one of their starting defensive quartet; and even that’s up in the air, with Pedro Porro missing training yesterday after rolling his ankle in the match.

With all that in mind, let’s talk through the options Ange has at his disposal. Let’s assume that Ben Davies, who has also been out with a knock but approaching fitness for a little while, manages to make it back for Wolves, and that Pedro Porro it fit to suit up at right back.

Eric Dier


  • Decent passer when not under pressure
  • Good communicator, important for organizing an inexperienced backline
  • Solid in the air


  • Terrible passer under pressure
  • Doesn’t have Ange’s trust
  • The agility and speed of a koala high on eucalyptus

Ben Davies


  • Decent mobility for a center back
  • Played Ange’s CB role in preseason
  • Naturally left-sided


  • Not great mobility for a fullback
  • Not used to playing CB in a back 4
  • The passing ability of a platypus

Emerson Royal


  • Decent at short passing under pressure
  • Terrific engine, good mobility
  • Very good aerial ability considering size


  • Can’t play both fullback and center back
  • No real passing vision
  • The go-forward of a cane toad

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg


  • Probably the best passing game of all the options here
  • Bentancur’s return means he potentially isn’t needed to cover midfield
  • Slightly better mobility than the likes of Dier or Davies


  • Still not great mobility
  • Has only ever rarely played in the defensive line, likely to get dominated by more physical strikers
  • The aerial ability of a wombat

Ashley Phillips


  • A bit of an unknown quantity (wild card, anyone?)
  • Built like a brick shithouse
  • Has played actual senior football in the Championship so is used to physical forwards


  • A bit of an unknown quantity
  • Naturally right-footed
  • The experience of a joey / juvenile kangaroo

Not considered

Yves Bissouma and Oliver Skipp could conceivably take up roles in the back four, but Ange preferred other options against Chelsea when he could have shifted them there. It’s therefore a fair assumption that they’ll likely not play in the back four.

So what will Ange do?

Let’s talk about the roles in Ange-ball. For the center backs, there’s two key traits required: the first is comfort on the ball. The CBs often invite pressure, and then look to open up the opposition by moving the ball quickly. The second is attributes that allow a defender to adequately handle 1-on-1 defensive scenarios; for Mickey, that was his elite pace, whereas for Cuti, that was his aggressive physicality combined with positioning.

Eric Dier is lacking in these two traits. We all know his mobility isn’t great, and there’s a reason why the Eric Dier Tire Fire Pass of the Day sponsored by Kumho Tyre was a meme around here for a bit - he’s not the most relaxed on the ball. Criticism aside though, Postecoglou would have been impressed by how well Dier performed coming in from the cold against Chelsea, and his ability to organize a backline made up of duct tape and hopes and dreams could be extremely valuable.

Ben Davies’ passing ability isn’t much better than Dier’s, but he does have decent mobility for the center back role (though is perhaps lacking the positional awareness). Emerson Royal’s short passing under pressure in deeper areas is actually quite good (it’s when he crosses the halfway line he falls apart) and his mobility, positioning, and aerial ability fit the bill - but he’s potentially needed in the left back role.

Hojbjerg is an interesting prospect: a huge miss for Tottenham will be Romero’s progressive passing, which was key to many of Spurs’ attacking moves. With the Argentine out, Hojbjerg is the only option available that will come close to filling that gap.

Which leaves Ashley Phillips as the last option. We know Ange Postecoglou isn’t afraid of using youth - but we also know he likes to put them in a position to succeed, in pressure-free environments. Dumping Phillips into the starting lineup alongside a partner who has also barely played the role will likely be a bridge too far, though it’s near guaranteed that he will be in the squad, potentially playing substitute minutes to get up to speed.

As to the fullback role, the traits required are slightly different. Ability on the ball is still a must, but the passing range is less important, instead prioritizing quick ball movement and interplay. Ability to get up and down the pitch is big as well, with the inverted role dropping deep and narrow to receive possession before often bursting forward to attack the box. As I alluded to above, Royal potentially suits the role better at this point than Ben Davies.

With all that in mind, my predicted back four for Wolves is:

Porro - Dier - Davies - Royal (if Ben Davies is fit)

Porro - Dier - Hojbjerg - Royal (if Ben Davies is not fit)

Whatever Postecoglou decides, the players are going to be under huge pressure. Here’s hoping the team can withstand that, displaying some of the guts they showed against Chelsea, and continue to push forward.