If there has been a more important fixture in this years edition of the Premier League than tomorrow’s clash between Chelsea and Tottenham, then it’s flown straight over my head. The ramifications of this one game are huge, a similar level of significance to a certain game back in 2010 at Eastlands that secured the exact same prize we are once again battling for.
A win for Spurs and it’s all in our hands. With Stoke and a severely depleted Sunderland lying in wait for us, the odds would certainly be in Tottenham’s favour. A draw may not be a complete disaster provided Arsenal were to drop points in either of their final games against QPR or Newcastle, but of course is not preferable. A loss however is simply unthinkable.
In order to avoid this disastrous loss, our defence will need to be at it’s damned near best to keep out arguably the most potent attacking trio in the Premier League. I do of course refer to Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar, the latter two of which we could have seen strutting their stuff at White Hart Lane were it to for last seasons end of year collapse. But I digress.
Three of our four defensive personnel look nailed on to start tomorrow. Kyle Walker is comfortably the strongest right back available to us and Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen have both played a large part in the success we’ve achieved this season. But then we have the dreaded left back slot, a position that has aroused nightmares in even the most fearless Spurs supporters with both incumbents having struggled to convince.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto has been in poor form recently and you can only laugh off his ‘LOL’s’ a few times before it starts to grain when he’s performing as he is. A number of questionable decisions in the recent game against Southampton formed just a microcosm of the issues he’s heaped upon himself at times over the last eight months particularly.
The problem has been a lack of true competition has meant little choice but to play him there. Another player tried out has been Kyle Naughton who has arguably been more disastrous than Benny. Simply put, he is not a left back, rather a decent right back playing hopelessly out of position. Against Chelsea he’s going to be facing three extremely tricky dangermen, a scenario that could be too much. We simply can’t afford slip ups in such a key game.
By process of elimination, it would seem that our best option therefore is to utilise Jan Vertonghen in his unflavoured position at left back. With the Belgian comfortably stronger defensively than both Naughton and BAE, combined with his versatile experience at left back, this one seems a no brainer.
It is a position that Jan has occupied on a number of occasions this season, particularly impressing in the role during our historic 3-2 victory at Old Trafford back in late September. He brings to the role a sublime talent for timing perfect interceptions – an aspect that could prove very important when dealing with the tricky feet of the ‘three amigos’ – and also an attacking threat. It could be argued that this out of position centre back is capable of delivering better crossed deliveries than any other full back in our squad. Not only has he played there on a few occasions for Spurs this season, but he also occupies this position for his country, Belgium when on international duty.
It is a position that Vertonghen admittedly does not enjoy having previously expressed frustration at playing left back in the Spurs lineup but the team has to come first and it’s hard to believe Vertonghen would kick up a fuss considering the prize potentially on offer if victory can be secured.
The only sticking point is the changes that it would force in the centre of the defence. Some would say it seems counter-productive to move the best player in his position at the club out of said position, but in terms of balance it could work a treat. It would mean bringing Steven Caulker back into the starting line-up to sit beside Dawson, adding that extra element of pace into the central pairing. From a defensive point of view against a side capable of counter attacking with great speed, this attribute can be invaluable.
Beyond that it also affects Walker’s game. With Vertonghen at left back, it offers Kyle Walker greater freedom to attack with more comfort in Vertonghen assisting Dawson and Caulker if the attack were to break down, tucking in to make a three man defence.
It seems that on paper this is a very viable option albeit potentially detrimental to the centre of the defence. However one thing is for certain. Whoever AVB eventually decides on for the role, their performance could prove pivotal in whether we’re able to get what we need out of this game. Go with the safe bet and go with Super Jan.
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Saturday, March 8, 2014 Chelsea 17:30 Tottenham Hotspur Sunday, March 16, 2014 Tottenham Hotspur 16:00 Arsenal
Sunday, March 2, 2014 Tottenham Hotspur 1 - 0 Cardiff City Sunday, February 23, 2014 Norwich City 1 - 0 Tottenham Hotspur
Premier League Table
# MP Team G P 1 28 Chelsea +30 63 2 28 Liverpool +38 59 3 28 Arsenal +24 59 4 26 Manchester City +42 57 5 28 Tottenham Hotspur +4 53 6 27 Everton +11 48 7 27 Manchester United +12 45 8 28 Newcastle United -2 43 9 28 Southampton +3 39 10 28 West Ham United -4 31 11 28 Aston Villa -7 31 12 28 Hull City -5 30 13 28 Stoke City -14 30 14 28 Swansea City -4 29 15 28 Norwich City -22 28 16 27 Crystal Palace -18 27 17 27 West Bromwich Albion -8 25 18 26 Sunderland -16 24 19 28 Cardiff City -30 22 20 28 Fulham -34 21