Davinson Sanchez Needs to Be the Main Man in Spurs' Ever-Improving Defence

James Cormack
Jul 18, 2020, 7:24 PM GMT+1
Tottenham defender Davinson Sanchez
Tottenham defender Davinson Sanchez | Ian Horrocks/Getty Images
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Cast your mind back to the end of 2016: Donald Trump has just been elected President of the USA, the UK had opted to part ways with the EU, 'corona' was solely a Mexican-produced beer and, most significantly, Tottenham's defence were on their way to securing the best defensive record in the Premier League.

The 2016/17 campaign was a magical one in N17. Sure, Antonio Conte ensured it typically didn't return any silverware, but it was the season where Mauricio Pochettino's Lilywhites were at their scintillating best.

Tottenham finished second to Antonio Conte's Chelsea in the 2016/17 season
Tottenham finished second to Antonio Conte's Chelsea in the 2016/17 season | IAN KINGTON/Getty Images

Kyle Walker and Danny Rose were flying down the White Hart Lane flanks like a pair of Apollo 11's, Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama emerged as a pair of titanium walls in midfield, while the creative three behind the imperious Harry Kane simply overwhelmed opponents with their intensity and fluidity.

However, the foundations for this superb side were laid by a pair of Belgian's elegantly shutting out opponent after opponent at the back. Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen were considered two of Europe's finest centre-halves at the time, and rightly so - they'd even made Kevin Wimmer look competent a season prior.

But as we near the end of the drawn out 2019/20 campaign, the Lilywhites are on course to concede over 20 goals more than they did at their stout best in 16/17.

And despite both Alderweireld and Vertonghen still being on Spurs' books, the financial implications brought about by COVID-19 mean it's clear that Jose Mourinho has to build his backline around a player who wasn't even at the club during their defensive heyday: Davinson Sanchez.

Sanchez spent just one season at Ajax before joining Spurs in 2017
Sanchez spent just one season at Ajax before joining Spurs in 2017 | VI-Images/Getty Images

Signed by Mauricio Pochettino in the summer of 2017 for a then club-record £42m fee, Sanchez was regarded as one of the hottest centre-back prospects on the block after guiding Ajax to a Europa League final.

Nevertheless, the arrival of a talented 21-year-old was seen as a great bit of business for the Lilywhites in both the short and long-term. Not only was Pochettino bolstering the league's stoutest backline, but he was acquiring a talent who had the potential to be one of the most dominant on the continent.

But since the Colombian's arrival, Spurs' defensive output have worsened year-on-year. After conceding just 26 times in 16/17, the 17/18 season saw 36 shipped, which was followed by 39 in 18/19 and now, with two games remaining, they've conceded 46 goals.

However, instead of attributing the blame to Sanchez disrupting the telepathic relationship of the two Belgian centre-halves, the demise of the once supreme duo is undoubtedly the major contributor to Spurs' defensive decline in recent years - with Serge Aurier doing his best Serge Aurier impression a few too many times certainly not helping either.

The Belgian pair have struggled to replicate any form akin to the 2016/17 best this season
The Belgian pair have struggled to replicate any form akin to the 2016/17 best this season | Marc Atkins/Getty Images

With Vertonghen's 32-year-old legs simply not sufficient for regular Premier League football anymore and Alderweireld - despite improvements since he was re-introduced to the side for the 1-0 win over Everton two weeks ago - simply a mere shadow of the defender who could dominate central areas and cover wide areas with frightening ease, Spurs' backline - particularly before the restart - could've been summarised neatly with one word: unstable.

Mourinho had struggled to find a consistent pairing before football ground to an unprecedented halt in March, but his emphasis on the 'defensive process' and more effective implementation of a dogged 4-4-2 out of possession has garnered significant defensive improvements in recent weeks - albeit to the detriment of their attacking potency.

In their seven games since the restart, Spurs have conceded six times - half of which came in a woeful defensive display at Sheffield United - and kept three clean sheets.

Sanchez, meanwhile, has overcome a pretty horrendous start to the 2019/20 season - where he was often looked like a fish out of water at right-back - to enjoy somewhat of resurgence under Mourinho and appear a little more like the player who starred during his debut campaign in north London.

While he was part of a backline which, well, disgraced themselves at Bramall Lane; fine, under the radar, performances came either side against Manchester United, West Ham and Arsenal.

Sanchez impressed in the recent 2-1 victory over Arsenal alongside match-winner Alderweireld
Sanchez impressed in the recent 2-1 victory over Arsenal alongside match-winner Alderweireld | Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

Sure, he might be some distance away from being defined as the complete centre-back, Sanchez can be a joy to watch at times. His acceleration is as smooth as is rapid, while his anticipation and positioning have improved to a level redolent of a far more experienced head. Not to mention his capacity to dominate in duels and one-v-one situations.

Despite his erratic but obvious talent, Sanchez is regularly the target of some hugely unwarranted criticism. While he's not exactly a scapegoat, let's just say fans are quick to criticise and hesitant to praise.

His ball-playing capabilities are frustrating and he is liable to the odd mistake - which are rarely ever costly - but does it justify the hyperbolic slander he's often subject to? Certainly not.

At 24 years old, Sanchez is just arriving at his prime and we can't overlook some of the superb displays he's churned out since he joined the club three years ago.

The 2017 defeat in the North London Derby at the Emirates, Champions League encounters against Real Madrid and the absolute masterclass at Stamford Bridge as Spurs won away at Chelsea for the first time in 28 years in April 2018 all stand out as stellar Sanchez showings...in BIG games.

The Colombian's stellar display against RB Leipzig went under the radar
The Colombian's stellar display against RB Leipzig went under the radar | Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

And if you want to talk a little more recently, the Colombian was pretty exceptional in the 1-0 loss at home to RB Leipzig in the Lilywhites' Champions League round of 16 tie. Spurs' tame defeat meant very few took notice, with other talking points talking priority.

The 24-year-old's proved time and time again he's a player who won't shy away from the big occasion and although his ceiling may have been slightly overrated when he arrived in 2017, his potential remains significant and there's little doubting there's scope for the Colombian to be one of the finest centre-halves in the division throughout his pomp.

Although Eric Dier has shown promise at the heart of defence, Japhet Tanganga is exciting and Toby Alderweireld has looked a bit more like Toby Alderweireld since the restart, Sanchez undoubtedly remains the Lilywhites' most talented centre-half.

Jose Mourinho's focus on the 'defensive process' has paid dividends in recent weeks
Jose Mourinho's focus on the 'defensive process' has paid dividends in recent weeks | Pool/Getty Images

The expected limited funds Mourinho's expected to have at his disposal this summer mean a complete revamp of the defence simply won't be feasible. Instead, it'll be the Portuguese's ability to coach which will be imperative in Tottenham restoring themselves as one of the league's stoutest sides.

We've seen promising signs since the restart, and Mourinho needs to ensure the man once described by Pochettino as "clever, humble and very open to learning" is at the forefront of their defensive renaissance.

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