After looking bereft against Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur’s defensive unit was composed throughout during the 3-1 win over West Ham United on Sunday, something that must be credited to the inclusion of Michael Dawson and the instalment of Hugo Lloris. Spurs played three men with experience of captaining big sides on Sunday, and Villas-Boas’ choices paid dividends, with the aerial bombardment of West Ham looking ineffectual.
Whether Dawson was chosen just for this match or as a permanent replacement for William Gallas is unknown, but putting him in the team seemed to help Kyle Walker in particular, with the right back looking more assured next to Dawson than he has done all season. With Lloris, Jan Vertonghen and Dawson in the side, both Steven Caulker and Walker looked more composed, with the only slip-up coming when a flustered Caulker ignored a call from Lloris and misplaced a clearance that led to West Ham’s consolation goal.
There are still doubts over Dawson’s long term place at the club, with Younes Kaboul likely to go into the starting eleven when fit. There is also the question over Caulker’s place, as Jan Vertonghen must move into the centre when Benoit Assou-Ekotto returns at left back. In the meantime however, the extra leadership Dawson contributes at the back is important in composing the side in the face of so many injuries, and Villas-Boas should keep faith with his defensive selections for the visit of Liverpool on Wednesday, despite the different threat their mobile attack poses.
The most important choice Villas-Boas has made this season is to install Lloris between the sticks. Hopefully this is now a permanent change, as the influence of Lloris in regards to Spurs’ improved defensive performance cannot be overstated. The Frenchman commands his area like no other keeper I have seen at Spurs. Unbelievably quick off his line, and more than happy to collect crosses and through balls, the back four suddenly looks far more resilient, with Lloris taking huge amounts of pressure off his defenders.
Once everyone is fit, the back four at Villas-Boas’ disposal looks like the strongest Spurs have had in years, with defenders that are not only powerhouses at the back, but also adept at carrying the ball out of defence. As with the problems in midfield, there is still a frustrating period to come when injuries prevent key men from participating, but the selection on Sunday shows how Spurs should set up in the meantime, with confident leaders present throughout the defence.