Alderweireld: the key to Tottenham's defensive transformation

Tobias Albertine Maurits Alderweireld, or Toby to his friends, joined Spurs in the summer after a highly impressive loan spell at Southampton, much to the dismay of the Saints faithful. 

Alongisde Jose Fonte, Alderweireld was part of the second best defence in the Premier League last season, and three months in to his White Hart Lane career it is clear why the South Coast outfit were so keen to extend the Belgian's stay at St Mary's. Alongside compatriot Jan Vertonghen, Alderweireld is the beating heart of one of the best Spurs defences in recent memory. 

Not since the partnership of Michael Dawson and Ledley King almost a decade ago has a centre-back pairing boasted such solidity and demonstrated the level of mutual understanding as the former Ajax pair.

Spurs have conceded just eight goals in their opening 10 games of the season in the Premier League, a vast improvement on last season with the club shipping 53 goals, two more than Steve Bruce's relegated Hull City.

The arrival of Alderweireld has seen Vertonghen recapture the form he showed in the early stages of his Spurs career, having struggled to demonstrate the consistency he managed under Andre Villas-Boas prior to this season. 

The pair's understanding stems from their time in the youth ranks of Belgian outfit Germinal Beerschot, aswell as the four years spent together in the Eredivisie with Ajax. While the duo are first-team regulars for their country, both line up as full-backs on opposing flanks in order to accommodate the likes of Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Lombaerts in the heart of the defence. 

The presence of Eric Dier in front of the back four is also a contributing factor to Spurs' defensive solidity, with the former Sporting Lisbon youngster slotting into the heart of the back four when either Alderweireld and Vertonghen venture out from the back, a regular feature of both players' games. 

Dier was one of four defenders to partner Vertonghen at the back last season, with Younes Kaboul, Federico Fazio and Vlad Chiriches all handed stints alongside the Belgian with varying success throughout the campaign, and the stability offered by Alderweireld, something rarely offered by the aforementioned trio, has no doubt been a major factor in Vertonghen's rejuvenation. 

Alderweireld's relationship with Vertonghen no doubt contributed to the effort to bring him to the club, with the latter publicly voicing his desire for a reunion with his former teammate prior to the defender completing his £11.7million summer switch from Atletico Madrid. 

Speaking recently on the pair's relationship, Alderweireld commented: "We talk a lot before the game about how to defend and how we have to do this. 'This kind of striker we have to do this', so we talk a lot before the game and in the game it is split second. 

"If you have to tell each other every time 'watch this…' then the moment is gone. We know what to do in certain situations. It is very important," [quotes via NBC Sport.]

The analysis of opposition strikers undertaken by the defensive duo appears to be paying dividends, with only one of the eight goals conceded by Spurs this season coming courtesy of a striker (Mame Biram Diouf's equaliser in the 2-2 draw with Stoke in August).

The tangible improvement of the defensive unit is largely owed to the acquisition of Alderweireld, and the vast improvement to Jan Vertonghen's game as a result of having a consistent partner is no surprise, with the chopping and changing of last season now seemingly behind them, Spurs have a platform to push on and defy expectations this season, and if they are to mount a challenge for the top four at the expense of Chelsea, the Belgian duo will have earned their fair share of the plaudits. 

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