How Toby Alderweireld will change the Spurs defence

Toby Alderweireld confirmed his £11.5 million transfer from Atletico Madrid and his arrival will change the dynamic of our back line.

A summer on from signing four players to bolster our defence, restructuring our back line once again seems to be the brief given to newly hired Paul Mitchell.

So far he is going about it in a much more pragmatic way than his predecessors. The players we’ve signed are more system guys rather than individuals that have impressive stats or are big names. The arrival of Toby Alderweireld endorses this once more.

Key changes

The Belgian international has a number of key strengths that will help change our back line and fit in with what Mauricio Pochettino wants from his defenders. Alderweireld is comfortable on the ball; he can switch the play over distance; he is quick over the ground; able to defend when pulled out in to wide areas and a good open field tackler. All of these are qualities required to operate in Mauricio Pochettino’s system from his centre backs.

What’s more, his versatility to play and cover a number of positions will help out our defence that struggled with injuries, especially in the full back positions, last year.

Comfortable on the ball

A player that can naturally operate in a number of positions, Toby Alderweireld is extremely comfortable on the ball. This is required across our back line, but particularly from those in the centre back spots, as they are often the ones who get our attack moving.

Mauricio Pochettino has our centre backs split wide when our goalkeeper has the ball and they are expected to take it from him and be the first phase of moving it forward. This requires them to not only be able to shift it over great distance between themselves split either side of the penalty area, but also in to the defensive midfielder or out to the highly positioned full backs.

We had a first hand look at Alderweireld’s ball distribution when Southampton visited the Lane last season.

Ronald Koeman asks similar things of his centre backs to Pochettino. We can see how Toby Alderweireld finds his centre back partner Jose Fonte (1) and how he moves the ball out to Ryan Bertrand playing high up at left back (2).  What’s more we can see a big reason why Paul Mitchell would’ve scouted him, for both Saints and us. This is his ability to switch play with balls played across the field all the way to the other flank (3).


Toby Alderweireld passing: Spurs 1-0 Southampton.

Switches in play

Switches in play are key from defensive players in Mauricio Pochettino’s system as it quickly moves or repositions the ball to create a new attacking angle. The problem we’ve had under Pochettino’s guidance is that we’ve not had players that can do this reliably or accurately on a consistent basis.

The arrival of Toby Alderweireld should address this problem, as the Belgian is adept in moving the ball from one side to the other. He also adds another dynamic that you can see from the graphic above. As he moves up the field, he is also looking for more aggressive vertical passes, which force the tempo in a different way.

Last season I often criticised the team for not moving the ball quickly enough. Bringing in Toby Alderweireld is a good move from a system point of view to address this problem in the first stages of possession.

Ability to defend in wide areas

With Mauricio Pochettino looking to force the tempo, he pushes his full backs on. This means that if the ball is lost and the players in our midfield pivot are unable to cover, then the centre backs need to be able to defend in wide areas.

To illustrate this, let’s look at the final home game of last season. We can see how Federico Fazio was dragged out to the flanks in order to cover his full back going forward. On the right he makes interceptions (diamonds) and tackles (crosses). When pulled out to the left, his unnatural side, he makes an error (blue triangle) that leads to a Hull shot.


Federico Fazio defensive actions, Spurs 2-0 Hull.

Being comfortable at right back, Toby Alderweireld is used to defending out on the flank. So, being dragged out in to wide areas should be no problem for him when he is deployed as a centre back. He has good speed to cover the ground and is also a good open field tackler in 1v1 situations.

Positional versatility

Being able to play as a centre back, but also at right back or in central midfield, Toby Alderweireld also provides alternative options and positional cover.

Last season we struggled at right back when Kyle Walker was out and Eric Dier had to fill in. Dier is a decent option, but looks like a centre back masquerading as a full back. He has a decent cross, but doesn’t have the necessary speed or athleticism to get high up the pitch to provide it often enough on the overlap.

This is where Toby Alderweireld can fill in if Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier are unavailable. The Belgian has good speed in order to motor forward and overlap the wide player on his side to provide crosses from higher up the pitch.

Compare where Toby Alderweireld delivers the ball from when he was played at right back against Hull to where Eric Dier does against the same opposition.


Toby Alderweireld and Eric Dier crossing positions against Hull.

Dier does deliver a good cross, just as he did for Harry Kane in our final game against Everton, but note the location of where he is when playing the ball. Just like against Hull above, again it is from a very deep location.


Dier crosses from deep for Kane to score.

To supply good quality crosses from this deep is commendable, it isn’t easy, but a higher percentage and more dangerous balls in are delivered from higher up the pitch, closer to their target.

Toby Alderweireld Weaknesses

Whilst Toby Alderweireld has a number of strengths, he does have some weaknesses to his game.

Lack of Aerial prowess

Alderweireld’s main weakness is in the air. He is a shade over six feet tall, but can be overpowered by larger centre forwards.

Some don’t like stats, but the Belgian won just 53% of his aerial duels last season. This is ok for a centre back, but down on where he should be.

By way of comparison the Premier League’s meanest defence, Chelsea, saw John Terry and Gary Cahill winning 75% and 74% of their aerial duels. Amongst our centre backs, Federico Fazio, as you’d expect, wins a healthy 73%, Jan Vertonghen 68% and Eric Dier 64%.

So, Toby Alderweireld does and will need to improve in this area. He has a decent leap for someone of his size, but needs to work on his starting position and the timing of his jump, as this is what often sees him get in trouble.

How Toby Alderweireld will change the Spurs defence

Toby Alderweireld is an excellent addition to our back line, which will immediately start to shore up our leaky defence.

He will provide a player that is good at moving the ball forward quicker than what we have, speeding up the pace of our transition from defence in to attack. He is also a very good ground defender, especially when pulled out in to wide areas or when having to deal with danger in the open field or a 1v1 situation.

His recovery speed is also very good and he has raced back to make a number of goal line clearances during his career. If he can improve his aerial prowess then we will have a seriously improved defence this season.

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25 Responses to How Toby Alderweireld will change the Spurs defence

  1. Derek Herschman 9th July 2015 at 6:46 pm #

    Toby great addition to defense,but we should sign Cabaye & Sell / player & cash for Lemela A.S.A.P while clubs are interested or will be to late, after another below average season!

    • Vegguy 9th July 2015 at 7:49 pm #

      Lamela is the only one of Baldini’s acquisitions to have both skill and potential. While it’s true that Spurs paid double what he was worth; they would never recover that at this stage. He keeps getting better.
      Spurs have a plethora of overpaid, overage players – We don’t need Cabaye.

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 9th July 2015 at 10:32 pm #

        Spot on.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 9th July 2015 at 10:19 pm #

      Cabaye is a decent player but not the type we need for our system. He would be a typical Baldini signing rather than one that Paul Mitchell has been tasked with finding. I’m prepared to give Lamela another season given that he was injured for most of his first one.

  2. Jackplug 9th July 2015 at 8:43 pm #

    Until Lamela improves his end product he is little more than a circus act! An example against Hull I was in the Shelf with my mate and Lamela sets off on a run. Not a Hull player within 20 yds and he does three stepovers! he then goes inside yet again rather than alternating with the byeline and runs into congestion loses the ball and everything breaks down again! He is called a winger but I cannot remember a one on one against a full back down to the corner flag and weighted cross which Soldado thrived on in Spain.

  3. Paulo 9th July 2015 at 8:56 pm #

    Hooray! Spurs Fanatic is back! Looks a good signing…. By my reckoning we’re a tad overloaded with centre backs right now, what with Vertonghen, Alderwierld, Wimmer, Dier, Fazio, Kabul and Chiriches all at the club… I’d expect that at least the latter two to move on before the start of the season. With Soldado and Adebayor also potentially on their way it’ll be interesting to see who else comes in… ?

    I don’t think Cabaye would be a great signing… he might add something but would probably cost a lot in fees and wages… also it might be tricky to fit Eriksen and Cabaye into the same team. I’m torn on Lamela, but lean towards holding on to him on the basis that I’m not sure we’ve yet seen the best..

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 9th July 2015 at 10:39 pm #

      Good to be back Paulo! We are stacked at centre back right now and the squad will have to be trimmed. Kaboul and Chiriches do look to be on their way. If we could get Adebayor’s wages off the books then that would be a huge plus also. I’m with you on Cabaye, good player but not what we need.

  4. Vegguy 10th July 2015 at 12:20 am #

    I doubt we can off load Ade’s wages. Even as a free transfer, he’s not worth that to anyone.
    At the same time, he’s a negative influence hanging around the Lane. My suggestion would be to release him, cancel his work permit and send him home to Togo. Agree to pay him monthly until his contract finishes with the proviso that if he plays for anyone else; his Spurs paycheck is reduced by 2/3 of whatever he is getting paid elsewhere.
    That gives him the opportunity to try to find a new team and extended contract and lets other teams make their own deals with him.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 10th July 2015 at 5:40 pm #

      I’m not sure if that’s legally possible…

  5. Jerry 10th July 2015 at 9:11 am #

    Great article, with the stadium and all there is a sense of optimism in the air, we all know how that works….
    Thanks Mark, missed you, Next year can you do some transfer rumours over the summer? (kidding)

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 10th July 2015 at 5:43 pm #

      Good to be back Jerry, hope everything well with you. There is a real sense of optimism in the air and we have been here before, but this time it feels slighlty more thought out and like a bit more planning has gone in to everything.

      I can do transfer rumours, i’ll just put a link up to newsnow :)

  6. dae 10th July 2015 at 12:10 pm #

    wow!!!!! missed your articles. Alderweireld is a truly great addition and seems to be what we needed alongside Jan.looking forward to the first game of the season.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 10th July 2015 at 5:46 pm #

      Hey dae, thanks for the kind words. Looking forward to the first game of the season as well and also what Levy/Mitchell have up their sleeve for the rest of the transfer window. The more signings to come comment has me curious as to who else will be arriving…

  7. Reinert 10th July 2015 at 9:21 pm #

    Glad to have you back on track, Mark. Excellently balanced read! Do you have any thoughts how our break-up and box-play will change, with Toby and Trippier?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 11th July 2015 at 6:32 pm #

      Thanks Reinert. I do have a few thoughts, but it depends on where Alderweireld plays – DM or centre back. With Wimmer coming in he could well play DM to push Bentaleb further forward. This would give us a decent screen for the back four to break up play before it gets to them. If he plays centre back, then hopefully we have someone earmarked to bring in at def mid, as otherwise our centre back pairing will be left exposed to fend for themselves like they were last season. A piece on Trippier and my thoughts on him will be upcoming next week.

  8. Sean 13th July 2015 at 12:15 pm #

    Alderweireld is undoubtedly a great signing.
    However, if we’re looking to break into the top 4 this season (something that has been out of grasp for too long now) we need to strengthen our midfield and buy (at least) another striker who can push and contend with Harry Kane.
    Whilst Everton’s James McCarthy is a young player with potential for big improvement,this seems to be a quality we are in not short supply of. After all, no one can question Lamela’s ability, Bentaleb is still young, Eriksen the same. It seems as though we are a team of youngsters on their way to big things. My only worry is that, in football’s current BUSINESS climate (see the Sterling story if you must), these players will be looking to go onto bigGER things. Just look at Southampton. They were unquestionably excellent last season, and this was not a fluke. They sold well and bought better. However, the players they bought were young (and had masses of potential). Unfortunately, football is, like I said, a business after all, and Southampton have become victims of the business. They’ve lost (some of) their most talented and infleuntial players of last year. With Clyne and Schneiderlin gone, and Alderweireld at the Lane, Southhampton have lost key players. Doesn’t this sound all too familiar?
    Over the past few years, and it’s not like I really need to express my disappointment at this, we have lost our best players to bigger teams (in fact, they all seem to end up at Real Madrid). It’s fair to say that we’ve been compensated fairly, particularly with regards to Gareth Bale, but that money, in my opinion, should be put to far better use. Rather than splashing out big money on young (and somewhat unproven) talent, we need to be buying more experienced players. Currently, we are unfortunately a club who is breeding (for want of a better word) players to be sold for profit in the future. This is no way to achieve Champions League football!
    Just look at Man Utd. Sure they’ve spent a lot, and wasted a lot, over the past few years, but with signings like Bastian Schweinsteiger, they’re looking like real title contenders once again.
    What I’m saying is that before rushing to sign more players “willy nilly”, Daniel Levy needs to evaluate our transfer ethos, and adapt it going forward so that we are no longer a go-to club for bigger clubs to poach our best players. We can’t really rest all our hopes for the future on a certain 21 year old Englishman now, can we?
    I propose we start by signing a decent centre midfielder to play alongside Bentaleb and behind Eriksen. Personally, my pick of the bunch is Radja Nainggolan, although there are many other decent alternatives. What is clear though, is that we need some class in that empty midfield spot, even if it is often unnoticeable class like we see from Gabi for Atletico Madrid.
    Any thoughts or suggestions for this spot and other potential signings?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th July 2015 at 12:48 pm #

      Great post Sean. Southampton are a very good example of a team that regenerates itself based on it’s investment principles. They are creating, selling and then reinvesting in their type of players rather than splashing £20m-£30m on big names. They continue to identify and unearth young, cheap talent with a view to selling them on for a profit. Whether this continues now that we have taken people like Paul Mitchell will remain to be seen, but they stay true to their business model and i admire this. We have a similar model ie selling on for profit and as you point out with players often ending up at Real Madrid. Levy does splash the cash though on bigger priced players, but the effects of 2013’s splurge (although we basically broke even) does seem to be effecting what we are seeing from him now – buying younger, cheaper players that fit the way we want to play rather than spending £25m on a big name that may or may not fit our system just because they are available.

      As for players that fit the DM spot i like James McCarthy a lot but agree that he is overpriced, as was Morgan Schneiderlin – great player and would have fit our system but not at the £30m Man Utd ended up paying. I like Nainggolan, but i wonder what kind of price tag he comes with? Others i’d consider are Gary Medel, Roman Neustadter (out of contract next summer), Mario Suarez or Sung-Yong Ki.

      • Sean 14th July 2015 at 10:06 am #

        Thanks for the reply Mark.
        Ah yes, Paul Mitchell, one of, if not our best, appointment of last year. He has a proven ability to scout extremely talented players. What I’m hoping is that his role can fit within a system which does not focus solely on player investment and profit.

        Though my last post seemed a bit negative, it was not meant completely as such. In fact, I’m extremely impressed with the summer transfers so far. Last season I had a very long discussion with a friend of mine (unfortunately a gooner) about the quality of Kieran Trippier. We agreed on nearly all his qualities, and the only thing we couldn’t agree on is the club he would move too. Looks like I won that bet…

        In regards to the CM spot, I like your suggestions. And yes, Nainggolan may be a bit pricey, but as you said, there are many decent alternatives. In fact, I’m almost annoyed at myself for not giving Sung-Yong Ki a mention in the previous post. I think he was Swansea’s star performer last season and one of the Premier League’s best and most underrated midfielders. He’s very solid and reliable, and would leave space for Bentaleb to work some of that midfield magic that we are not only sure he is capable of, but that we are all dying to see this coming season.

        Next up, to look for a new forward.
        Oh the fun never stops in football…

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th July 2015 at 12:44 pm #

          Great post Sean, I didn’t perceive your last post as negative at all, in fact it was spot on. I think in Paul Mitchell working his magic he does focus a great deal on identifying players that are talented and can work for a club’s system, but this in turn does naturally generate interest in them from bigger clubs, leading to transfers and profit. This part will have appealed to Levy, but he is looking to assemble a bright, young team to grace the new stadium, as he has to sell 61,000 tickets and dull football isn’t going to do that. Overall, it’s a virtuous circle and you only have to look at what Southampton paid for players and how much they’ve sold them for to see that. It has been good for them as, so far, they haven’t blown the money on expensive flops – Dani Osvaldo and Gaston Ramirez apart. But in going for these two players, it has probably reinforced them to stick to their development principles.

          • Sean 14th July 2015 at 3:28 pm #

            Thanks for the reply Mark.

            I completely agree. I think Paul Mitchell will develop our squad into a “team” in the next few years. More recently, we’ve splashed out unnecessarily on young talent, somewhat giving the impression that we are developing a squad with a structure and set desires / goals. Unfortunately, although we have (certainly) not been playing poor football in recent years, and we haven’t been disgraced in the PL standings, the money we have spent just doesn’t justify the output, the results, or lack of.

            I’m hoping that this season continues on from the end of the last. There were spells towards the end of last season where I could see real individual and team talent from our boys. Now Poch needs to have an idea of the systems and formations he wants to play and he needs to build our squad around this. LVG did something very similar at Utd last season and, although they may not be a stellar example of spending wisely, I think they filled vulnerable positions very well. Unfortunately, they overpaid for a dew spoilt players with a poor attitude, and in my opinion this cost them a real title shout.

            What are your thoughts on next season’s formation / starting line up? Though most PL clubs use one-striker formations, I’m wondering whether a partner up top for Harry Kane may benefit his overall play and provide more options for Christian Eriksen, one of the world’s finest young football players, and a player we should feel blessed to have at the Lane. However, this may leave us with a slight lack of width, not that we’ve exactly been racing to buy any wingers this transfer window.

            • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 14th July 2015 at 5:41 pm #

              With regards to next season i’d like to see Pochettino experiment with some more systems and formations than he has previously done. At Southampton he had at least three systems he used. I have talked about these when we hired him so i’ll find some links if you want to read up on them, but essentially they were 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 (including 4-2-3-1 with a second striker as number ten) and 4-4-2. I’d like to see him build more on these as we’ve really only seen play 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1. The second striker number ten version of 4-2-3-1 has rarely been seen and usually it’s switched to when we are trailing in games by bringing on Soldado and dropping Kane in at number ten. I’d like to see him work on these three formations, but also to try and integrate a system with a three centre backs (given that we have so many CBs) to operate against teams playing with two centre forwards.

              Personally i’d go 4-3-3 to open the campaign (especially vs Man Utd as this formation prospered against van Gaal last season). My line-up, from what we ahve available at present, would be Lloris (Vorm) – Walker, Wimmer, Vertonghen, Rose – Alderweireld, Bentaleb, Eriksen – Chadli, Kane, Lamela.

              • Sean 14th July 2015 at 7:10 pm #

                Yeah Poch did seem to have a variety of systems in place at Southampton, which is one of the reasons I regard him (at least tactically) as one of the most promising managers in the PL.

                Hopefully we’ll be seeing a bit of variation next year, but I hope we have a standard formation that is used to shape the team. Whether that means, like you said, for a 4-3-3 role with Harry Kane, or whether we buy a forward to partner our young Englishman up front, remains to be seen. Personally, I like playing (“technically”) two up front. I don’d mean lets revert back to the old 4-4-2, but adapt to the modern game, like the 4-2-3-1 with the extra number 10 sitting behind. Hopefully that would give us much more attacking power and would put less reliance on Kane.

                On a slightly different tangent, I’m rather excited at the prospect of talks with Michy Batshuayi. He’s young, fast, tricky, and he can finish! Now that sounds like a dream pairing with Harry Kane. I just hope our Belgian contingent can convince the youngster into a move away from Marseille.

                • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 15th July 2015 at 12:04 pm #

                  Batshuayi is a really interesting link and again another good, young development prospect. Someone that could come in and be initially an understudy to Kane that isn’t a threat to keep Harry out of the team if he went on a scoring run like an established name such as Fernando Llorente would be. This is especially true with Poch favouring 1 striker to start matches with.

                  My only concern, and it is a very minor one, is that we end up with too many Belgians and they end up controlling the dressing room, becoming cliquey. Dembele and Vertonghen can be sulky if not in the team and they may take others down with them should things not be going their way either. This is a minor concern but it has been seen in the past to take down managers at other clubs.

  9. Willie! 13th July 2015 at 6:52 pm #

    I’d place a healthy wager than Dier is faster than Toby. At one point about mid-season, he’d clocked the fastest pace of ANY Spurs player in a match that season.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 13th July 2015 at 7:15 pm #

      I’d take Alderweireld in a sprint all day long Willie. It’s also about atitude to get forward in to high positions. Naughton had speed but didn’t do this either.