Mauricio Pochettino’s use of a back three gives Jan Vertonghen the freedom to return to being an attacking defence man.
Remarkably, Jan Vertonghen has just one Premier League goal since his debut season in England. Quite a surprise given that he netted five times during his first campaign in Tottenham lilywhite.
Andre Villas-Boas had used the Belgian as an offensive weapon to break defensive lines in that season, something Mauricio Pochettino has now reignited.
Jan Vertonghen attacking from defence under AVB
Andre Villas-Boas signed Jan Vertonghen for three reasons.
Firstly, Vertonghen was a versatile and solid defender that could play both centre and left back positions. Secondly, he was comfortable on the ball with the ability to accurately pass, often over distance. Thirdly, for his ability to step out of defence and pop up in surprise positions in attack, almost like an old school Libero used to do.
Villas-Boas utilised all three of these facets, but particularly the final one. Jan Vertonghen would frequently shock opponents with his forward movement to break their first or even second defensive lines.
Rewind back to his first goal in our colours after just two minutes of Man Utd 2 Spurs 3 at Old Trafford. Vertonghen played out from the back, exchanged passes with Gareth Bale, glided forward through several challenges and finished via a deflection.
Roll on a few weeks and the pair was at it again. Swansea were the opponents this time, as once more Vertonghen surprised the defence by surging past Bale to take the through ball and finish.
The Swans were caught off guard and unaware that a central defender would try such a thing. Vertonghen would catch them out again as he created our second goal. Striding forward, he stole in-behind their midfield line to pick out Bale’s run straight through the centre.
Jan would add two more goals from free kicks in that season, but combined with Bale once more in our devastating 3-2 loss at Anfield. The Welshman’s cross finding Vertonghen’s forehead to nod home as he popped up in the box once more.
Surprisingly, Jan Vertonghen only has one Premier League goal since that sensational season. Both Tim Sherwood and Mauricio Pochettino curbed his forward bursts. That is until now.
Since switching to a back three, Pochettino has restored Vertonghen’s licence to attack. Whilst it hasn’t so far produced the goals of his first season, it has threatened to. Defences have been surprised by his movement and Vertonghen is once more breaking their lines. A classic example was in our 3-2 victory over Everton with a run that rekindled memories of Old Trafford.
Jan Vertonghen breaking lines
The forward bursts of Jan Vertonghen are made possible due to the back three. Two centre backs in reserve, plus the cover from defensive midfielder Victor Wanyama, give him the green light to go if he sees an open lane.
Three centre backs also permit Vertonghen to move forward to break a defensive line with his movement and then with a pass. This can see Vertonghen pop up in central midfield areas, where the defence don’t expect him to be, much like an old school Libero.
Since returning from injury, Vertonghen moving in to these areas of the pitch has had a huge affect on our chance creation. Above he is free to carve open the Stoke defence. Against Southampton, moving up in to similar positions created both our goals in our 2-1 victory.
Vertonghen’s pass from an unmarked central midfield position then saw us win a penalty.
The combination then almost added a third. From an almost identical position, Vertonghen played Dele Alli in, but he couldn’t finish.
Jan Vertonghen attacking passing
The freedom to stride out of defence takes advantage of Jan Vertonghen’s underrated passing. The long raking diagonals of Toby Alderweireld take all the plaudits, which means that Vertonghen’s distribution often goes under the radar. He too is an Ajax product, a team that uses this ball to hit their wide forwards quickly and he is equally comfortable in attempting it.
Stepping out from defence, Vertonghen’s shorter passing game is used to pierce opposition defensive lines. This creates chances for other players that are on the move through the opposition.
However, similarly to Toby Alderweireld and Eric Dier, Vertonghen can also switch the side of the attack. This sees us quickly move the ball in to space on the opposite side and create chances, such as from this Vertonghen pass against Everton.
The ability to shift the ball accurately in one pass from side-to-side is key to Mauricio Pochettino’s attack. Three centre backs that can all play this pass gets our attack moving and pulls the opposition around.
Jan Vertonghen return of the attacking defence man
Jan Vertonghen had quite the first season in a Spurs shirt. Five Premier League goals and a further one in Europe saw his ability to move out from defence maximised.
Since season one, his freedom to get forward had been curbed for a more traditional centre back role.
Mauricio Pochettino’s move to a back three once again lets him off the leash. A return to not only the scoring charts, but also assists, is imminent.