We knew Jan Vertonghen had the versatility to play either in the centre or at left back when we signed him from Ajax this summer.
Prior to the second half against QPR on Sunday, we’d only witnessed him playing in the middle. However, after Andre Villas-Boas’ tactical switch up, we got our first glimpse of Jan Vertonghen in the left back role and just how versatile he is.
The Belgian put on a man-of-the-match display and I wanted to take a look at it in more detail.
The game of Jan Vertonghen
For the first 45 minutes against QPR, Jan Vertonghen started out at centre back. We know what we’re getting from him here, a solid defender who is comfortable on the ball with his 88% pass completion percentage.
He likes to play passes square to partner William Gallas and also to Sandro dropping in between the two of them. When moving the ball the other way, he finds his left back and Gareth Bale higher up with more vertical passes. The Norwich match showed his distribution style perfectly, square to the right, more diagonal to the left.
At Ajax he had a penchant for a long diagonal pass when looking to force the play and he’s also brought that to Spurs. We can see a couple that he tried against Norwich above and also last week against Reading below.
Jan Vertonghen 1st half at centre back
Against QPR we very much saw the versatility of Jan Vertonghen after he started the match in his usual centre back role, before switching to left back for the second half.
In the first 45 he receives the ball once again in the inside left channel from passes played back to him. These came mainly from Gareth Bale out on the left and Sandro in front of him as QPR pressed us in possession.
In terms of passes played, he again distributes the ball square to William Gallas and Sandro to the right, then more diagonally out to Gareth Bale on the left.
Defensively he is busy, making two successful ground challenges, as well as six of nine attempted clearances. Interestingly his two interceptions come out towards the left where he would find himself in the second half.
Jan Vertonghen 2nd half at left back
In the second 45, Jan Vertonghen was moved to left back in order to get Gareth Bale forward. Bale was supposed to be overlapping Clint Dempsey, providing an attacking thrust from deep, but it just wasn’t happening with QPR attacking Bale’s his flank 38% of the time. This, combined with 57% possession of the ball for the Ranger boys, pushed Spurs backward.
The move of Jan Vertonghen enabled him to become more of an attacking player, as well as to get Gareth Bale in to the game in advanced areas.
We can see the effect of moving the Belgian and his ability to play the left back role by where he receives the ball in the second half. He picks it up in two key areas.
Firstly, in the left back slot in his own half as Steven Caulker and William Gallas work the ball wide to him in our half.
Secondly, he receives it in an advanced area wide on the left 10 yards outside the QPR box. From here he is able to attack and attempt to put balls in the box.
As for his passes played, they also change, with the ball going vertically a lot more often.
After making 96% of his passes in the first half, Vertonghen’s success rate falls to 76% in the second as the nature of his passing becomes more aggressive. The ball goes straight up the line to Gareth Bale, as he finds the Welshman on 7 occasions in the second period.
He also tries one long diagonal pass that is unsuccessful, but also shows his versatility to get forward and attempt three crosses.
It is that drive and ability to get up the pitch that allows him to adapt to playing in the full back role and it is on display in Spurs’ second goal.
Jan Vertonghen takes the pass from Moussa Dembele, before running with it and dishing it off to Gareth Bale at the edge of the area. Bale’s shot came back off the bar, but Jermain Defoe was there to tuck away the rebound.
The distance Vertonghen travelled with the ball at his feet and the neatness of his pass to Bale was impressive though.
Defensively he makes a successful tackle and a clearance out on the left, but does more of his work centrally on the edge of the box. This includes a goal-denying challenge on Junior Hoilett who was set to fire when Vertonghen came sliding in.
It was a match saving tackle and one that showed his versatility to be out on the left, but still recognise danger in the centre.
This was the first time we’ve seen Jan Vertonghen playing in the left back role for Spurs and it may not be the last.
He’s played there before for both Belgium and Ajax and showed against QPR that he has the ability to change up his game to play a different defensive role. After the match, Jan revealed how motivated the lads were to turn the game around.
“Everyone was angry (at half-time) because we didn’t think we played that well. We were motivated and you could see that in the second half.”
After the shift, he become more attack minded in moving the ball forward vertically to get it quickly to Gareth Bale, as well as getting himself forward to attempt crosses. He also tried two take-ons, one of which was successful; both were out on the left side after his move.
His role in the second goal encapsulated his ability to get forward, which is key for a full back in Andre Villas-Boas’ system.
Gareth Bale shouldn’t see any more time at left back after this experiment. In the absence of Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Kyle Naughton, Jan Vertonghen demonstrated his considerable versatility, which will be of great benefit to Spurs this season.