Jan Vertonghen – the 4-2-3-1 destroyer?

In his first season at White Hart Lane, we’ve seen Jan Vertonghen deployed for much of it as an emergency left back.

Whilst the Belgian has filled this role admirably due to his versatility, it also allows him to burst forward and get more involved in the attack. Nowhere was this more evident than in the opening minutes at Old Trafford, where he went on a powerful run through the Man Utd defence to open the scoring.

With Benoit Assou-Ekotto now returned from injury, Vertonghen has shifted back in to his preferred slot in the centre. What’s been promising are not just the goals and added defensive steel, but the Belgian is also providing a similar forward drive, initiating attacks from deep.

In the days of the 4-4-2 formation, two defenders were matched up against two strikers. With 4-2-3-1 now in vogue, two central defenders are matched up against a single forward. This can often lead to having one centre back marking, whilst the other is spare on the cover.

Once in possession, a defensive midfielder can often drop deeper in order to take the ball from the centre backs and move it forward e.g. Lucas at Liverpool. But why not make use of the spare centre back against a single striker in a 4-2-3-1 to do this job and keep your midfielders further forward?

Michael Dawson has often been deployed with Jan Vertonghen in recent matches. The former marks, whereas the latter has been covering, then moving the ball forward when in possession.

Jan Vertonghen against Arsenal

If we take a look at our match with Arsenal we can see that Michael Dawson’s position from where he passes is very horizontal across the pitch.


Michael Dawson passing locations, Spurs vs Arsenal.

Jan Vertonghen on the other hand is always moving forward. The position of where he is when he passes the ball is very vertical, as he moves up the pitch and in to the Arsenal half.


Jan Vertonghen passing locations, Spurs vs Arsenal.

Michael Dawson’s top target for his passes in the match were Kyle Walker and Jan Vertonghen, whereas the Belgian most frequently found Scott Parker. Our number 8 has been playing in a more advanced role this season, rather than being the defensive stopper of last. Vertonghen’s forward movement to initiate attacks with the ball is one of the reasons for this.

Jan Vertonghen against Inter

Against Inter, Jan Vertonghen was partnered with William Gallas in the centre. This time, we see the Frenchman playing the ball sideways more often than not, whereas the Belgian is moving it forward.


Jan Vertonghen and William Gallas passing locations, Spurs vs Inter.

William Gallas’ top passing target, like Michael Dawson was Jan Vertonghen, whereas the Belgian most frequently moved the ball forward to Moussa Dembele.

Jan Vertonghen against Liverpool

In the match with Liverpool at the weekend, we saw a return to the partnership of Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen.

This time, with us chasing the game at 1-0 and 3-2 to Liverpool, Michael Dawson hits more passes forward which fail to find their target. His general location of where he is when attempting to play a pass is still horizontal across the pitch though.


Michael Dawson passing locations, Liverpool vs Spurs.

Jan Vertonghen on the other hand has a much more vertical nature to the locations of where he is on the field when attempting his passes, as he drives forward looking to initiate attacks.


Jan Vertonghen passing locations, Liverpool vs Spurs.

Jan Vertonghen – the 4-2-3-1 destroyer?

Most teams have used a defensive midfield player to drop in between two centre backs split wide in order to bring the ball forward. Spurs have flirted with this earlier in the season, when Sandro was dropping deeper to gain possession and bring the ball out eg Reading 1 Spurs 3.

Now, with Jan Vertonghen back in the centre and having faced several teams deploying a single striker in a 4-2-3-1, we have been seeing more of him tasked with this job.

Being adept on the ball, the Belgian is able to initiate attacks from the back, by bringing it forward in to the midfield. This means that the opposition are having to use a player from their midfield to cover him and are a man short as a result. This then leaves either Moussa Dembele, Scott Parker or Gareth Bale free to receive Vertonghen’s pass as the ball is transferred from back to front.

We’ve had a lot of success against teams playing 4-2-3-1 in recent weeks, controlling games against Arsenal, Inter, and barring two defensive errors, Liverpool. The play of Jan Vertonghen to bring the ball out from the back and initiate attacks has played a major part in breaking down a formation with a single striker.

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One Response to Jan Vertonghen – the 4-2-3-1 destroyer?

  1. bob 12th March 2013 at 7:21 pm #

    Nice article! Vertonghen is crucial for us.