Having conceded just 6 goals from their first eleven Premier League games, Tottenham officially have the best defence in not just England, but also the whole of Europe. This has been achieved despite the absence of arguably their best defender Toby Alderweireld, and with several other key components of the defensive unit missing games. It’s an improvement on their strong form in this respect from 2015/16, when they were the equal most miserly side along with Manchester United.
Whilst the goals have dried up for Spurs, they’ve continued to put the squeeze on opponents at the other end. Mauricio Pochettino has built this squad from the back; it’s been the foundation of the change in mindset and performances at White Hart Lane during his tenure. It’s fair to say the defence is the area that has kept Tottenham in touching distance with the top 4 despite the troubles up front.
Pochettino inherited a back half of the pitch that was nothing short of a shambles. Fairly quickly, he was able to to replace the liabilities that were the likes of Vlad Chiriches and the injury-prone Younes Kaboul, bringing in the brilliant Toby Alderweireld and versatile Eric Dier. And in strengthening the fullback areas too, with Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies providing ample cover. Out with the dross and in with both quality and depth.
That depth has been needed of late too. Tottenham have used 24 players in the Premier League through the first eleven games, with many changes needed at the back in particular to cover for injuries. Jan Vertonghen is the only Spurs player to play every minute, while his Belgian countryman Alderweireld has missed 300 minutes of Premier League football. As the graph below details, Spurs have used a total of 10 defensive-oriented players across the 11 games. And apart from Vertonghen and Kyle Walker, the rest have chopped and changed significantly.
It is in fact despite the alterations to their defensive unit on a weekly basis that Spurs find themselves without peer from a goal-conceding standpoint. The individual players are all capable of stepping up and filling in either off the bench or by coming in to the starting line up. They have been prepared and so well-drilled by Pochettino and his team that they simply know their role and can come in and perform at the level required.
This has certainly been evidenced by Michel Vorm and Ben Davies in particular. When Hugo Lloris missed two and a half Premier League games, Vorm was able to instantly come in and step up to the mark, pulling off several impressive saves. Likewise, there is no drop off at all from a defensive perspective when Davies appears at left full back in place of Danny Rose. Whilst appearances for Kevin Wimmer and Kieran Trippier are rare, even Wimmer has shown (despite giving up an unfortunate own goal in the North London derby) that he is a more than adequate fill-in at centre half.
The acquisition of Victor Wanyama too cannot be dismissed as a relevant factor in Spurs’ further improved displays at the back. Whilst not strictly a member of the back 4, his bustling displays in defensive midfield have cut off supply to attacking threats and played a key role in cutting down chances for the opposition. Surely one of the most astute purchases of the summer.
Whilst Eric Dier has not been at his best for periods this season, he too plays an important role. His versatility, able to fill in at right back and centre back whilst predominantly (now) a defensive midfielder makes him a hugely valuable commodity for both club and country.
Spurs can go into games safe in the knowledge that they can keep teams from scoring. With full confidence that it is going to take something out of the ordinary for their opponent to find the back of the net. Apart from set pieces and the rare defensive lapse (that has in fact seen a goal conceded in each of the past two Premier League games) they have ten players, plus Wanyama, that can be trusted to keep clean sheets. And despite the problems at the other end, which ironically have perhaps been more affected by Alderweireld’s absence, the defence still looks incredibly solid.