The tactics of Toby Alderweireld

Tottenham have used the versatile and dynamic Toby Alderweireld to achieve a number of tactical aims this season.

Toby Alderweireld is a versatile threat. He is comfortable on the ball; he can switch play over distance; he is quick across the ground; able to defend when pulled out in to wide areas; a good open field tackler and can play multiple positions. A coach’s dream when comes to executing tactics.

Moving the ball out

Mauricio Pochettino has a number of aims for Toby Alderweireld to get the most out of his abilities in his system. A large number of them stem from starting by splitting the centre backs wide.

We see this often when building from the back, so much so that it has just become intrinsic when watching Spurs. Both centre backs split very wide and Eric Dier drops in-between them in order to make a back three to bring the ball out from Hugo Lloris.


Eric Dier splits the CBs to bring the ball out.

This achieves a number of aims. It causes the opposition to have to decide if they are going to try and disrupt this? If they do, then how many players will they send to try and shut it down? Will this then cause them to over commit from their usual defensive setup? Above all though, over 90 minutes, it should wear teams down due to the additional space that they have to cover in order to try and stop us doing it.

An example of two teams that altered their usual games to try and hinder us were Stoke away and Man Utd at home. Both opponents started with good energy trying to close down and were initially successful, but ended up running out of steam and getting tonked with goals in short periods of the second half.

What bringing the ball out in this way does is that it also allows Toby Alderweireld to move forward in to higher areas than usual centre backs often go. Forming triangles with defensive midfielder Eric Dier and his centre back partner, he can navigate pressure and move up towards and in to the opposition half. This gives him much more advanced and attacking positions from where he can use his excellent distribution.

Dynamic distribution

Toby Alderweireld is comfortable on the ball and has an exceptional range and accuracy of pass. It is these attributes that Mauricio Pochettino has him use to distribute the ball as almost a quarterback from a defensive position.

Pochettino has Toby Alderweireld look for four different types of passing option.

The first is to his centre back partner, which can often change the side of play from right to left (1). The second is to look for the long diagonal out to the advancing left back to alter the angle of attack. This moves it swiftly in to an advanced position before the defence can reset (2). The third is to do similar for the right back. Despite often being on his side of the field, we see Alderweireld look to spring Kyle Walker down the line (3). The final pass is to go long from back to front looking for the early runs of the number ten or striker to catch the opposition flat-footed (4). We can see examples of all these passes against Liverpool.


Passes to: 1 = CB, 2 = LB, 3 = RB, 4 = Attacking players

We can see how high up the pitch Toby Alderweireld often gets due to our back three being able to bring the ball out and navigate opposition pressure. On our goal in that game, Alderweireld was able to move up in to the Liverpool half before delivering a trademark diagonal cross-field pass to Christian Eriksen. The Dane found Harry Kane and we were back in the game.


Toby Alderweireld gets in to the Liverpool half to pick out Eriksen.

We can also see his advanced positioning paying off against Everton. Navigating the Toffees’ pressure to move forward and being free from markers allows him to deliver the long raking pass unopposed. Not being challenged and closer to his target increases the chances of him delivering accurately for Dele Alli’s run beyond the Toffees’ back line.

Whilst not being the most spectacular or devastating, the pass that is often the most interesting to watch is the one to the right back. Firstly, it is diagonal, but often played down the same side of the field. Secondly, it usually involves Alderweireld playing it with his left foot, highlighting just how versatile and dynamically two-footed he is.

Here is one from the Aston Villa game.

Defending in wide areas

Whilst Toby Alderweireld is a major attacking threat, Mauricio Pochettino also requires him to defend.

Centre backs are tasked with being much more versatile defenders in our coach’s system. The reason for this is that the full backs are trying to advance forward and we are vulnerable to quick counter attacks in wide areas if Dier and Dembele are unable to cover. The centre backs are therefore required to be comfortable defending out towards the flanks as they can often get dragged out there.

Being comfortable and having experience of having played both centre and full back, Toby Alderweireld is excellent at doing this. We can see from the Man Utd game how often he is required to defend out on the right. He makes a number of clearances (circles) as well as make an interception (diamond), wins aerial duels (arrows) and blocks several crosses (grey bars).


Circle = Clearance. Diamond = Interception. Arrow = Aerial Duel. Grey Bar = Block. X = Ground Tackle.

It helps that Toby Alderweireld is an excellent open-field and 1v1 tackler. We can see here how he gets dragged out wide by the speed of Everton’s break and dispossess Ross Barkley.

Alderweireld’s speed is also useful in recovery situations. His chasing down and denial of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on two occasions in our 1-2 loss to Dortmund showed how he never gives up, even when the opponent has a great goal scoring chance.

Special at set pieces

Not just being our main weapon for getting attacks moving, Mauricio Pochettino also heavily uses Toby Alderweireld at set pieces.

Our coach likes to use Toby’s speed and leaping ability to steal a march on defenders. Most often this comes from runs across the near post. Regular readers on here will know how we like to leave the corner of the six-yard box open at corners. Dier and Alderweireld then race towards this free space, looking to connect with a header.


Dier and Alderweireld charge towards the vacant space.

It’s been a highly successful Tottenham tactic this season with both Dier and Alderweireld getting goals from it at corners and free kicks from wide areas.

So much so that it has even created goals for others. In the Europa League, Qarabag were so afraid of these two that they double-teamed them, leaving Son Heung-Min open to score.


Dier and Alderweireld get doubled leaving Son Heung-MIn.

Tactical use of Toby Alderweireld overall

Toby Alderweireld is the most dynamic and versatile player we have and Mauricio Pochettino utilises his wide array of capabilities to the fullest to run our system.

His role in initiating our attack sees him in the spotlight more often than Jan Vertonghen, but his partnership and the relationship the two have is a major reason why we conceded so few goals this season.

Vertonghen and Alderweireld are intrinsically on the same wavelength and compliment each other’s game perfectly, which cannot be underestimated in how effective we’ve been at the back this season.

Rightly named our player of the season, Toby Alderweireld is the one player we would struggle to replace, as there aren’t many with his skill set out there.

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