When Tottenham Hotspur announced the signing of Jan Vertonghen back in July, I was understandably excited. With Ledley King retiring, a calm collected head at the back was a necessity. On top of that, the Belgian’s versatility ensured that he would become a huge asset to new head coach Andre Villas-Boas.
His ability to play centre-back, left-back and in the middle of the park has been called upon more than once this season and while the latter may’ve failed to reap rewards, having seen Spurs succumb to defeat to Norwich City in the Capital One Cup following the decision to field him in the position from the bench, it’s at left-back that Vertonghen has predominantly turned out this year.
Injuries to regular starter Benoit Assou-Ekotto and subsequent stand in Kyle Naughton has seen the 25-year-old ply his trade in the position, with his insufficiencies to play the role evident against the Premier League’s quicker wingers.
While it utilises his impressive capability to break forward, Vertonghen’s defensive frailties are easily exploited when he’s played at left-back. Against Swansea City, however, the Belgium international was again restored to centre-back, a position he has played sporadically since Assou-Ekotto was ruled out with a knee problem earlier in the year.
Unsurprisingly, it saw the former Ajax ace blossom in the 1-0 victory of Michael Laudrup’s side, showcasing his superior defensive talents to hinder the attacking threat of Michu. Balance to the defence was also restored, with Naughton deputising for Steven Caulker, with two recent goals conceded against West Ham United and Everton coming as a result of the young defenders error.
Naughton impressed, it has to be said, in the win over the Swans, despite the lack of cover provided by Clint Dempsey, who regularly swapped flanks with Aaron Lennon. However, as good as the former Sheffield United ace was on Sunday, the sooner Assou-Ekotto returns to the starting XI, the better.
While the Cameroon international may turn out the odd lackadaisical performance from the time to time, ‘Disco Benny’ is still one of the league’s finest left-backs on his day. Pushing forward to support Gareth Bale, the duo have formed an impressive understanding that benefits the team when attacking the opposition.
Vertonghen has proved a more than adequate stand in it has to be said, it’s clear that his best position is in the heart of the defence rather than at full-back. The shape of the defence was vastly improved with Naughton at left-back against Swansea, but with a stronger right foot, there is still a need to bring in a natural left-back back into the first-team fold.
While it remains unclear as to when Assou-Ekotto will return to action, with reports suggesting he’s verging on a return to full fitness. However, when he does, the calming - often too calming - influence he brings to the backline greatly bolster the defence that has looked frail and exposed, especially late on where Tottenham Hotspur have conceded 11 goals from the 71st minute onwards, the most in the Premier League.
As good as Vertonghen may’ve been when called upon to subsidise for the 28-year-old, his best position is clearly at centre-back. Villas-Boas may’ve been forced to utilise the Belgian at left-back, but with Assou-Ekotto closing in on a return to fitness, it won’t be long before supporters are once again treated to the marauding capabilities of every Spurs fan’s favourite Tweeter.