Tottenham have won one of four matches since Toby Alderweireld damaged his hamstring against Real Madrid on Nov. 1, one of the principle reasons for the club’s recent skid.
Doing their utmost to cope with the Belgian’s absence, Eric Dier transitioned into Spurs backline. Dier first slid into the central role, between Davinson Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen.
Dier has since moved to the right side of the back three, with the Colombian taking centre stage. Last night was the most obvious example of just how dearly Tottenham misses their defensive leader.
Dier and Sanchez were caught flat repeatedly, allowing Jamie Vardy to dart in behind. Hugo Lloris acted more like a sweeper in the first 20 minutes, coming off his line quickly to cut out Leicester’s through balls. Unfortunately deploying a high line backfired on Vardy’s opener, as Dier and Sanchez were easily split by an accurate Marc Albrighton delivery.
Lloris was caught in no-man’s land and Vardy obliged with a skillful, deft one-time lob.
After Vardy’s goal, Spurs decided to play a deeper line, a tactic which cost them on Leicester’s second. Marhez had acres to reach top speed on the dribble, making it nearly impossible for Dier or Vertonghen to interject. There was no tackle forthcoming, as Mahrez marauded to the edge of Tottenham’s area unmolested before dispatching with relative ease.
Alderweireld pulls the strings from the middle of the park. He keeps his defensive partners compact and tight, and has an innate knowledge of when to push up, and when to drop deep. He’s the fulcrum who maintains Tottenham’s defensive balance.
Alderweireld’s unmatched passing ability
In addition, Tottenham miss the Belgian’s unmatched passing ability. While Dier and Sanchez are both proficient passers from the back, they don’t quite measure up to Alderweireld’s ability with the ball at his feet. Alderweireld can happily hit a 60-metre pinpoint cross-field ball, putting his team on the front foot in an instant. Dier and Sanchez aren’t as confident at delivering swift, long cross-field balls.
In addition, Alderweireld’s absence has forced Dier into defence, leaving a hole in Spurs defensive midfield. With Victor Wanyama out through long-term injury, pressure has been placed squarely on Harry Winks and Mousa Dembele to fill the void. Dembele has struggled lately, whether due to injury or a lack of match fitness.
Winks has been magnificent, but the young Englishman isn’t best suited to protect the back four. That’s Dier’s speciality. His versatility is a massive bonus but Tottenham are at their best with Dier in midfield and Alderweireld lining up right behind him.
Tottenham’s only Premier League win without Alderweireld came against Crystal Palace. But even the result in that match wasn’t a forgone conclusion. Since Alderweireld pulled up lame, Spurs haven’t been in total control of any top flight contest, including the 1-0 home win over Palace.
Only in loss do you realize how much you miss someone. The same can be said about Alderweireld, whose importance to Spurs starting 11 cannot be overstated.
(This piece originally featured on Hotspur HQ. Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)