Jose Mourinho clearly needs a lesson in maintaining the confidence of his centre-backs, and Monday night’s adversary Mauricio Pochettino might well be the man to provide it. Due to his contract situation, Toby Alderweireld – despite being widely revered as arguably the best centre-half in the Premier League – dramatically slumped down the pecking order last season with youngster Davinson Sanchez taking his spot next to Jan Vertonghen at the heart of defence.
But following a summer in which Tottenham became the first club in English football not to make an addition since the incarnation of the transfer window, Pochettino has re-embraced Alderweireld, almost treating the Belgium international as a new signing. And while United’s centre-halves struggle to provide a decent performance between them as they’re constantly jettisoned in and out of the starting XI, Alderweireld has returned to the Tottenham first team almost as if he never left it.
Following an impressive return against Fulham the gameweek previous, Alderweireld was one of Tottenham’s standout performers on Monday night by playing a key part in a clean sheet at Old Trafford. He made the joint-most interceptions and second-most clearances of any Tottenham player, while winning two aerial duels and weighing in with three big tackles.
But considering the counter-attacking nature of Tottenham’s performance, Alderweireld’s distribution was key as well; five accurate long balls was the second-most of any outfield player and repeatedly got Tottenham on the front foot in instantaneous fashion, turning defence into attack with one well-executed pass.
We still probably haven’t seen Alderweireld fully up to speed just yet – he returned late from the World Cup and made only four appearances during the second half of last season – but for him to slot back into the team so quickly and effectively already is not only an endorsement of the Belgian’s quality but also Pochettino’s man-management skills. He never discussed Alderweireld’s situation in public, at least not in significant detail, and has clearly maintained a relationship with the dominant centre-half throughout his protracted saga.
Now scrambling around for a centre-back who he can trust to be consistent over the whole ninety minutes, Mourinho should take note of how well Pochettino’s handled a difficult situation which he’s now reaping the rewards from.