Now that we know how to pronounce his name, the more important question regarding Tottenham Hotspur’s recent acquisition of Toby Alderweireld is how they plan to use him. Tottenham’s defense was abysmal during the 2014-2015 campaign, and that may be giving them too much credit. If Tottenham hope to compete for a Champions League spot, Mauricio Pochettino’s number one concern must be how to improve his atrocious back line, and the addition of Alderweireld should help fix their defensive woes.
Those woes will persist if Pochettino does not use a tactical approach that allows him to get the most out of his shiny new toy. Alderweireld will certainly start along fellow Belgian Jan Vertonghen on the backline. Both players are most comfortable playing as center-backs, but have the ability to play wide, with the former preferring the right and the latter the left side of the field. Pochettino will most likely deploy the two in the center with some combination of young fullbacks flanking the two. An interesting option for Pochettino to consider, however, is the 3-5-2.
Back threes are not quite en vogue, despite Louis van Gaal and Brendan Rodgers both using back threes at some point during the most recent Premier League season (Rodgers used a 3-4-3, though). Antonio Conte used a 3-5-2 while winning two scudetti with Juventus and Netherlands employed it against Spain in the 2014 World Cup. The 3-5-2 is either enjoying the beginnings of a nascent renaissance or is simply a flash in the pan. Regardless of where one falls in this debate, the aforementioned successes are not aberrations, and for a team trying to punch above its weight class, as Tottenham is always trying to do, a trendy formation may be exactly what they need.
So what would a 3-5-2 look like in North London? Tottenham is an interesting team to play around with when it comes to formations because they have a lot of young, exciting talent. This means that a lot of these players are not as wed to a static position as, say, a veteran winger who has spent his entire career outside. This means Pochettino has more leeway to play someone out of position. This starts with that back three. Vertonghen and Alderweireld are locks. As I mentioned, both are best in the center, but in a back three, of course, only one can actually be in the center. Alderweireld does not do as well when he has to play on the flank, so he can stay in the center where he is most comfortable. Vertonghen can easily play on the left side, he is such a talented and versatile back that there is no real discernable drop-off for him when he plays wide.