Clean shorts, clean sheets: Strong, smart Toby Alderweireld puts spine in Spurs

Greg Lea highlights Tottenham Hotspur central defender Toby Alderweireld, who has brought a solidity to Spurs with his 'not-Messi, not-Ronaldo' something else.

Tottenham defender Toby Alderweireld shown during a Premier League match against Leicester City in August. Rui Vieira / AP / August 22, 2015
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“When I was a kid I had a coach who would tell me that if my shorts weren’t dirty at the end of the game then I’d not played well,” Rio Ferdinand, the now retired former Manchester United centre-back, once revealed in a discussion about the art of defending.

“In my mind, it’s the opposite: ideally, I want to come off the pitch with spotless shorts. I think sometimes you can judge how good a defender is by the colour of his shorts at the end of a game.”

Toby Alderweireld is another centrehalf who seems to subscribe to such a belief.

Despite donning the all-white kit of Tottenham Hotspur, the Belgian rarely leaves the field with even a speck of mud on his garments.

That is testament not only to the fine work of Premier League groundsmen, but also to Alderweireld's awareness and excellent reading of the game.

As Ferdinand suggested, the best defenders usually do not need to go to ground because their astute positioning allows them to anticipate danger and cut out moves before a last-ditch intervention is required.

Read more: Greg Lea on Mousa Dembele showing he can be the man to rev Tottenham's engine

Alderweireld, who has committed only five fouls in 22 top flight matches, has likely earned the admiration of the ex-England international with his measured performances this season.

If Ferdinand is indeed a fan of Alderweireld, he is far from alone.

The man signed from Atletico Madrid for £11.5 million (Dh60.3m) last summer has won many admirers at White Hart Lane in the last few months, with Tottenham’s top-four push built on a solid backline of which he has been an integral and ever-present part.

Ahead of Saturday’s trip to Crystal Palace, Alderweireld and centre-back partner Jan Vertonghen have not yet missed a single minute of action in the Premier League, with such continuity in a key position pivotal to Tottenham’s success so far this term.

Alderweireld is strong, reliable and intelligent, while his athleticism means he is comfortable operating in the high defensive line that Mauricio Pochettino’s pressing game depends on.

He has also helped to start attacks from the back, with his long ball to set up Dele Alli’s goal in the 1-1 draw with Everton earlier this month evidence of his range of passing.

As well as bringing his own individual qualities to the table, Alderweireld has also had a positive influence on his teammates around him.

Vertonghen looks far more settled playing alongside his compatriot and former Ajax colleague, with many of the costly errors and lapses in concentration that he was guilty of making in the past largely absent so far in 2015/16.

Left back Danny Rose has become more consistent too, while Kyle Walker has shown signs of improvement on the other side of the back four.

With Eric Dier proving to be a revelation as a holding midfielder and Hugo Lloris one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League, it is not surprising that no side has conceded fewer goals than Tottenham’s 18 this campaign.

“If you make a foul, it means you are too late,” Alderweireld recently told the Daily Mirror in an interview that provided an insight into his approach to defending.

“If you don’t make a foul, he is gone. I go when I know 100 per cent I can get the ball. I defend my position.

“I am not [Lionel] Messi. I am not [Cristiano] Ronaldo. I have something else. I am not the quickest, like [Theo] Walcott. I have to be clever and read ­situations.

“If I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t be able to play Premier League. Everybody has a strength – this is mine.”

It is a rather useful attribute for any defender to possess, and one that has helped set Tottenham on the path towards Uefa Champions League qualification this season.

Not just for the money

It was the U-turn to end all U-turns.

Six days after rejecting the overtures of Manchester City and committing his long-term future to Aston Villa, Fabian Delph was photographed undergoing a medical at a Manchester hospital ahead of an £8m switch to the Etihad Stadium.

A cursory glance at his appearance record since that move in July would seem to suggest that Delph’s initial concerns about the amount of first team football he would be afforded at City were prescient.

The midfielder’s absence from the starting XI for much of the campaign has primarily been because of injury, however, with a hamstring issue ruling him out of action for two months between September and November.

His comeback from the problem was gradual. Before last weekend’s 4-0 win over Crystal Palace, Delph had started just two Premier League games all season.

The 26-year-old’s return to full fitness and fine display in that victory, though, suggest that he has an important role to play for the remainder of the campaign.

Delph added energy and drive in the middle of the park, with the England international involved in both phases of play as he shuttled between the two penalty boxes.

As well as breaking up a number of Palace’s advances, he also opened the scoring with a shot from distance and was heavily involved in many of City’s attacking moves, with David Silva and Joe Ledley the only players on the pitch to complete more passes than Delph.

Yaya Toure and Fernandinho are likely to remain Pellegrini’s first-choice central midfielders, with the former still capable of game-changing interventions and the latter one of City’s most reliable performers.

Nevertheless, Delph can still play a big part as City continue their fight on four fronts in 2016.

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