Tottenham Focus – Who will be the centre backs in Kaboul’s absence
One of Spurs’ best players last season, and possibly the most improved, was Younes Kaboul. Much of his campaign last time out saw him partnering with Ledley King or William Gallas. He proved to be a rock at the heart of the back four, under the guidance of the experienced King and Gallas, Kaboul appeared set to become Spurs next defensive leader with the expected departure of the older duo; King to retirement, Gallas on a transfer.
Things have changed, Gallas has not only started the season whilst Kaboul has been lost to injury for four months; as Head Coach André Villas-Boas acknowledged a massive blow for Tottenham. Kaboul’s injury arguably prolonged Michael Dawson’s Spurs career, when he looked to be on his way out [though Villas-Boas has publicly been nothing but respectful and complimentary to Dawson]. The question is in Kaboul’s absence what will or should be Tottenham’s centre back pairing. Spurs’ long chase of Jan Vertonghen and his ability should signify that, he will be the main choice at centre left. If so, who will partner him?
Last season, Steven Caulker played more games than Gallas and Dawson combined [essentially due to their injuries]. Caulker enjoyed an excellent season on loan at Swansea alongside Ashley Williams, making 26 appearances. If last season’s statistics for Gallas and Dawson are pro-rata calculated to 26 games each, Caulker compares favourably to the more experienced duo. On that basis, Caulker won more tackles and made more interceptions, suggesting that he has ability to cover his defensive partner and a good reading of the game - as does his high number of blocked shots. All three have a high clearance rate, allied to accurate long ball ratio and high pass accuracy. Where Caulker has a further advantage is in three areas. Caulker managed six key passes last season [including an assist] and took 17 shots – as much as the others combined in each. Caulker perhaps crucially also has pace in comparison. So the young Englishman appears to be the best option? Not necessarily.
Vertonghen has shown glimpses of his ability, calmness on the ball and experience so far. Despite this though, the Belgian is still settling in to the pace and physicality of the Premier League. Whilst Caulker looks to have plenty of ability, a centre back pairing of under 30 league games is perhaps not ideal. Both Gallas and Dawson have the experience to play centre right though pace is a question for both. Dawson is arguably the more inspirational, Gallas arguably the better defender.
There appears an acknowledgement that there will be more rotation under Villas-Boas. Will this be limited to players or could this be as a unit? Could Gallas be the main option to speed Vertonghen acclimatisation because of the language as, with Assou-Ekoto there would be three French speaking defenders? Similarly would this be the best partnership in front of Lloris?
Could this also mean in some games, a more natural rotation would be to bring in Dawson, Caulker and Friedel, with the older hands to guide Caulker? This may only be short term depending on Vertonghen’s progress in which case Caulker’s ability may see him also take centre stage. At least until Kaboul is fit again.
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