Tottenham record-signing Davinson Sanchez poised to step into Toby Alderweireld’s shoes
Tottenham players and supporters alike can be forgiven for not looking back on Saturday’s first North London derby of the season with the fondest of memories after their comprehensive defeat.
Losing any football match is never pleasant, let alone to the fiercest of rivals, and the manner in which Mauricio Pochettino’s side fell to their 2-0 defeat at the Emirates Stadium was uncharacteristic for a Spurs side that have seen off the likes of Real Madrid this year.
They simply were not at the races on Saturday, and defeat continued a barren recent record at their North London rivals which has seen the Lilywhites win just once in their previous 12 league visits.
The cliché goes that every cloud has a silver lining, though. If there was anything remotely positive to come from their Emirates ordeal, then it was the continued rise of Davinson Sanchez.
The 21-year-old has proved to be quite the acquisition since arriving from Ajax in a club-record £42 million deal, providing a masterclass in how to adapt to the challenge of the Premier League as a budding young footballer and showing that he has the raw potential to be a special player one day.
The sudden emergence of Sanchez is more important now than ever, following the news that stalwart centre-back Toby Alderweireld will be on the sidelines until January with a hamstring injury.
The Belgian suffered the setback during the 3-1 victory over Real Madrid in the Champions League last month, and boss Pochettino admitted to the press last week that the 28-year-old is facing a lengthy spell on the treatment table, after the knock transpired to be far worse than initially feared.
While the absence of Alderweireld is a big loss considering how much he has transformed the Tottenham defence since joining from Atletico Madrid in 2015, it signals an opportunity for Sanchez.
It signals a new challenge for the young Colombian in the early days of his career in England, who has been moved from his customary role in the middle of the back-three to the right-hand side in order to cater for Eric Dier’s return to the Spurs back-line.
There was little time for him to get accustomed to his new position, however, as he was handed a baptism of fire up against none other than Alexis Sanchez during the North London derby last week.
Despite the final score, there was no disgrace whatsoever in the way that he dealt with the dangerous Chilean all afternoon, sticking to the task extremely well by ensuring that his focus didn’t waver at any point, and he had enough of an intelligent footballing brain to know to stand his ground and not dive in.
On the one occasion he did do that – the game’s main talking point – he was unfairly adjudged to have fouled Sanchez with a strong sliding challenge, a foul that controversially resulted in Arsenal’s opener.
There was a huge sense of injustice about referee Mike Dean’s decision, but it did little to stop the Tottenham defender from imposing himself on the game, and he set the precedent for teammates Dier and Jan Vertonghen to follow by winning 100% of his aerial battles and completing ten key defensive actions.
Considering that it was Sanchez’s first taste of a North London derby, away at a noisy Arsenal crowd, it is no mean feat for the youngster to leave with the label of being Tottenham’s best player.
The 21-year-old continued in a similar vein during Tuesday evening’s European win at Borussia Dortmund, a match that saw Tottenham secure their status as the winners of Champions League Group H.
Other than one moment of team brilliance from the hosts, he gave the likes of Mario Gotze and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang little room to work in, so much so that Hugo Lloris barely had anything to do during the second-half. That was testament to the work-rate of the Spurs back-three.
It is easy to forget how young Sanchez is such is his mature mannerisms on the football field, but already the benefits of his one-year spell at Ajax – a club renowned for their youth development – are clear to see.
It appears that the trajectory of his career is only going in one way, and as long as he can continue with this same rich vein of form there’s no reason as to why he isn’t the long-term future at White Hart Lane.
There aren’t many young, central defenders that can compete with the Colombian in terms of raw power and strength and have the ability to combine this with a frightening burst of speed, and Pochettino’s ability to get Sanchez confident in possession could make him into a real all-rounder.
This is perhaps where the next challenge lies for the youngster after being moved onto the right of the three defenders; the likes of Vertonghen and Alderweireld are both extremely proficient on the ball, able to drive forward into the midfield to free up the likes of Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen inside the final third, and Sanchez needs to adapt and add this to his ever-increasing repertoire of skills.
He is undoubtedly in the right place for this period in his career though, and Tottenham manager Pochettino is already seeing his £42 million outlay being re-paid after just four months of the season.
Speaking before Sanchez had stepped foot on a Premier League pitch, he said:
“He has an amazing history and background. From the beginning at Ajax, he showed his quality and personality. He was the best player at Ajax in his first season.
“He is so aggressive, so fast and he loves to play with risk at his back. It’s a massive opportunity because we believe he will be one of the best centre-backs in the world.”
Little could Pochettino have known at the time just how seamlessly the young lad from Colombia would settle into English football, though.
It is hard to believe that Sanchez has only ever experienced the Dutch Eredivise and the Colombian Primera Liga until now, never being faced with anything as tough or intense as the Premier League.
While Sanchez continues to emerge as a leading light at the pinnacle of the English game, the bigger picture suggests that Alderweireld’s injury could offer a glimpse of what the near future could look like in North London as the Belgian’s Tottenham future continues to hang somewhat in the balance.
His wage dispute over the summer was no secret, with his agent being particularly vocal about how Alderweireld merited a new deal, and heading into 2018 there are still no negotiations on the table.
Should the Belgian leave next summer then it’s not out of the question that a future Tottenham defence would consist of Sanchez, Dier and Vertonghen, and this period of time until Alderweireld returns from injury gives Pochettino the perfect opportunity to see what this would look like.
That is merely a side note for now, though, and for the time being the onus is on Sanchez to continue living up to a new-found expectancy and justify his label as one of Europe’s hottest young prospects.