Attacking and being on the offensive is one thing, but are we getting too risky at the back, with Jan Vertonghen becoming overly impetuous in his defending?
Jan Vertonghen is a front foot defender. He tries to anticipate and get to the ball first before the opponent, looking to snuff out attacks. It’s a higher risk, but higher reward strategy. Belgium seems to be breeding this type of centre back with Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen and Toby Alderweireld all cast from a similar dye.
Vertonghen, as we’ve witnessed first hand, is a player who needs to feel wanted, loved and involved. When his head is not in it due to the revolving door of managers or he is not consistently playing then his attitude can go and the sloppy performances follow.
This season though, he has been the pick of our defenders. In and out of the starting line-up at the beginning of the campaign, Jan Vertonghen has been a consistent presence in our back four ever since.
Ironically, the performances this season seem to have improved since a manger whom he had a major falling out with last term, called him out after our 3-0 loss to Chelsea.
“Vertonghen is so poor. Can’t move his feet. He looks elegant with the ball, but he just can’t defend.”
Tim Sherwood was gone, but certainly didn’t want to be forgotten. However, Jan Vertonghen seemed to be fuelled by this criticism, developing a partnership with first Federico Fazio and now Eric Dier. This has seen us lose just 2 of 11 Premier League matches since. The aggression and passion is back in his game, but is it at the expense of becoming a touch impetuous and reckless in his defending?
Jan Vertonghen against Sunderland
The 2-1 victory over Sunderland saw Jan Vertonghen as the central figure. At the start, he thought he’d scored the opener, only for the dubious goals panel to take it away from him later. At the end, he was involved in one of the most ridiculous cases of being called offside of all time. Sandwiched in-between these two moments, Vertonghen also allowed Sunderland back in to the game at 1-1 with an ill-advised lunge on Jermain Defoe.
The Black Cats new addition had been looking to run in-behind all game and had been called offside several times. On this occasion, Vertonghen thought Defoe, who was coming back towards the ball, was again offside and took his frustration at the lack of a call out on the former Spurs striker.
Sebastien Larsson curled the resulting free kick in to the corner of our net to level up the scores. However, this was the first sign that Vertonghen was starting to become impetuous in his decision making with no need to hack down Defoe in such a high-risk area.
Jan Vertonghen against West Brom
Up at West Brom, we emerged with a 3-0 victory, but the Baggies were certainly more dangerous than the score line suggested.
In the first half, with us having taken the lead, West Brom were coming back in to the game. The Baggies broke quickly and moved the ball straight to Victor Anichebe beyond our midfield. Being a defender who tries to nip in front and nick the ball, Vertonghen came out from the back line and slid in looking to take it away. He missed and let the striker drive downfield at the rest of our defence.
With Vertonghen removed and chasing back, this left James Morrison free to drift in to the space he would’ve occupied.
Morrison received the ball from Anichebe, turned and fired a curling effort towards the top corner. Hugo Lloris sprung to his right and somehow tipped it over the bar. The moment was an important one. Had it gone in, the Baggies would’ve have capitalised on the momentum they were creating and would’ve altered the flow of the match at 2-1.
Jan Vertonghen against Arsenal
The North London derby saw us sweep to victory on the wave of an impressive team performance. Pressing that forced the Gunners back in to their own half was at the centre of what turned out be a memorable day.
Arsenal did take the lead though and after getting away with his impetuous challenge at West Brom, Jan Vertonghen was punished this time by a better class of opposition.
With us pressing high up, Arsenal managed to move the ball beyond our trio of midfield pressers in to Olivier Giroud. Just as he had done at the Hawthorns, this brought Jan Vertonghen racing out from the back four in order to get to the ball first and stop the attack.
Like Anichebe, Giroud was too strong in shielding the ball and was able to lay it off to Danny Welbeck.
Although the action occurred at halfway, with Welbeck running past Danny Rose, Vertonghen was again now out of position and this caused his fellow defenders to have to rotate over. Eric Dier had to move across to slow down Welbeck. Kyle Walker had come over to pick up Olivier Giroud, leaving Mesut Ozil free.
The German would have a tap-in after a fortunate miss-kick from Giroud, but Vertonghen’s rash challenge on halfway started a domino effect. Had he stayed on his feet, then Giroud would have been forced to pass backwards and everyone, most notably our midfield trio, could’ve recovered their defensive positions.
Is Jan Vertonghen becoming too impetuous?
Whilst this may seem a harsh assessment, it’s something that has been bugging me lately about Vertonghen’s defending.
There has been a spate of ill-advised rash challenges in areas of the pitch where it is unnecessary from a player in the last line of our defence. These have invited needless pressure or seen us concede goals.
Against Liverpool on Tuesday night, looking to nick the ball away from Daniel Sturridge sent it straight in to the path of Lazar Markovic to open the scoring. It wasn’t a challenge borne out of racing from the backline like against West Brom or Arsenal. But, it was one made by a front foot defender always looking to nick the ball away from the attacker.
This week Jan Vertonghen has talked about not wanting to change our attacking approach, which has seen us pull out victories in the last ten minutes of games. This shouldn’t alter, as our pressing and stamina is starting to pay real dividends late in matches and is a positive feature of our play. However, it shouldn’t come at the expense of naive defending, which a better class of opposition, the teams we are competing against for a top four spot, will take advantage of.
With our starting XI having an average age of just 24, Vertonghen at 27 is one of the more experienced members of the group. He should be showing others the way forward. He shouldn’t let our attacking intentions cloud his judgement in to making impetuous decisions that cause unnecessary pressure on our defence.