Belgium National Team

Vertonghen and Dembélé slotting in at Spurs

The two banner signings that kicked off the Villas-Boas regime were Belgians – Ben McAleer tells us how the duo, who’ve known each other since their teens, are getting on.

It’s fair to say Belgian football is making a major comeback in the game. The national team possess a number of star players, destined for bigger and better things. As such, a numerous Premier League sides, including Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, have dipped into the gene pool and pulled out, arguably, the pick of the crop. Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois, Romelu Lukaku, Jan Vertonghen and Mousa Dembélé are all registered with the Premiership trio, the middle three all of which are currently on loan at teams in Germany, Spain and England, respectively.

Throw in Christian Benteke and Thomas Vermaelen and it’s no shock to see football connoisseurs rant and rave about the standard of talent emanating from Belgium. However, it can be argued that the latter duo are the ones making the biggest impact at their new club this season. Spurs recruited Vertonghen and Dembélé over the summer, despite massive interest from teams across the continent. It’s no secret that Arsenal courted the former, before he opted to sign for their north London rivals, while the latter was second choice for Real Madrid should they have failed in their pursuit to sign Luka Modric. Their short time at White Hart Lane has already seen them endear themselves to the fans in spectacular fashion. Defender Vertonghen, having arrived from Ajax back in July, was seen as the natural successor to Ledley King, who had retired earlier that summer with his chronic knee problems finally ending the career of the classy defender.

However, many have yet to see the best of the 25-year-old. While the Belgian’s best position is at centre-back, his versatility, coupled with injuries to Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Kyle Naughton, has seen Andre Villas-Boas forced to play him at left-back. It may give Vertonghen licence to break forward in stunning fashion, as witnessed during the wins over Queen’s Park Rangers and Manchester United, his defensive frailties are often capitalised upon by the league’s smaller, quicker wingers. It was no surprise that his toughest encounter this year has been against Nani during the win over United. Granted, the defender broke forward in spectacular fashion to net the opener in the early exchanges, but with the Portuguese wideman having one of his on-days; it saw Vertonghen endure a torrid afternoon in Manchester. It’s evident to see his best position is at centre-back. Having featured sporadically in the league, his performances in the heart of the backline against Reading and Swansea City were, it could be argued, his two best to date.

Nevertheless, until Assou-Ekotto makes a full recovery from his knee problem, chances are Vertonghen will continue to be utilised at left-back, in the Premiership at least. He may offer another physical threat by from the position, but it’s fair to say his strongest position is centre-back, be it alongside Steven Caulker, William Gallas, Michael Dawson or the salivating possibility of being partnered with Younes Kaboul. Moving further up the pitch it we come to Dembélé.

Vertonghen’s compatriot arrived at White Hart Lane from Fulham in August, just days prior to the sale of Modric to Real Madrid. The 25-year-old took just 23 minutes to make his mark at White Hart Lane, emerging as a half-time substitute in the 1-1 draw with Norwich City at the beginning of September to net the opener.

The midfielder has taken to his new surroundings like a duck to water, forming an effective and physically dominating partnership with Sandro in the middle of the park. With him in the starting XI, the swagger and attacking verve that Spurs desperately lacked in the opening three encounters – the loss to Newcastle United and respective draws with West Bromwich Albion and Norwich – this year. It’s no shock that the form dipped with him out of the squad. Having suffered a reoccurrence of a hip problem while on international duty for Belgium, Dembélé missed six consecutive Premier League encounters, coupled with two Europa League and one Capital One Cup game, during which Spurs won just three out of nine. The powerful midfielder provides the necessary link between the midfield and the front-line, driving forward to terrorise the opposition backline. While he may offer a differing threat to Modric, Dembélé is certainly a player worthy of replacing the diminutive Croatian. His impact has been felt more in comparison to Vertonghen, if only down to the fact that he’s being played in his correct position. Once the defender can consistently play at centre-back, fans will undoubtedly see the best of the former Ajax ace, much like they have done with Dembélé.

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