Does the praise belie their collective efforts at Tottenham?

Jan Vertonghen, Tottenham Hotspur

While Tottenham Hotspur might still be somewhat short of possessing the sort of water-tight defense that’s been absenct in N17 for a small lifetime now, this season’s rearguard has drew refreshing praise from the Lilywhites’ support.

Certainly, when you view Spurs’ back four from an individual perspective, there’s plenty to be cheerful about during a campaign that still sees them in with a shout of attaining both Champions League qualification as well as Europa League glory.

The performances of those at the other end of the pitch – needless to say dominated by the box-office appeal of Gareth Bale – have naturally been given the bulk of the praise as Spurs have evolved under Andre Villas-Boas, with both the Welshman, Aaron Lennon and Mousa Dembele generally regarded as three of the side’s outstanding performers.

Although while Bale might be a shoo-in for the PFA Team of the Year, he might not be the only Spurs player set to make it into the starting XI. Indeed, quite whether he does make the cut remains to be seen, but the chances are Belgian stopper Jan Vertonghen might not be a million miles away from receiving some well-earned recognition at the end of the season.

The former-Ajax man has been the jewel in the crowd of Villas-Boas’ back four, but although he might be the only one to scoop much in the way of individual recognition, he’s been backed up by superb lieutenants along the way.

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In Steven Caulker and most notably Michael Dawson, the Lilywhites have been lucky enough to possess a pair of central defenders that haven’t just performed magnificently when brought into the side, but a duo that have surpassed all expectations that fans may have bestowed at the start of the season, Dawson – already a fan favourite at White Hart Lane – has done especially well to come back from the cold and he’s been quite rightly singled out for his fair share of praise in recent weeks.

Moving out wide, while Kyle Walker hasn’t enjoyed a season anything like his breakthrough one last term, but he’s still regarded as one of the better right-backs in the country and following Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s return at the turn of the year, Villas-Boas was able to call upon one of the classiest left-backs in the Premier League.

And just in case their outfield defensive unit isn’t enough, Tottenham are lucky enough to possess a man widely regarded as one of the best in between the sticks in Hugo Lloris.

Throw in the veteran nous of William Gallas and the fact that Younes Kaboul is now only a matter of weeks away from full fitness, then you would have thought that positivity should be in abundance at White Hart Lane from a defensive perspective.

Yet for a defense that seems to attract such praise from an individual viewing, why is it as a collective they still continue to represent such a leaky and often unreliable outfit?

Despite currently sitting fourth in the table, having shipped 37 goals and counting so far this campaign, they currently possess the worst defensive record in the Premier League’s top six. To put that into perspective, that’s only two less than Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool, who can lay claim to the unenviable statistic of having the worst record at the back out of 10 of the league’s top 11 clubs.

But it’s when you consider the two teams’ relative targets, that Spurs’ defensive issues seem to illuminate their current plight. Because where as Liverpool are very much still a side in transition, Tottenham are one looking to qualify for Champions League football. And their defensive record should read more in touch with those adjacent to them in the table, rather than a side some nine points behind.

Rafa Benitez’s Chelsea may well currently sit just the one point in front of Spurs with a game in hand, but as well as scoring seven more goals than the Lilywhites, they’ve also managed to concede seven less aswell.

Similarly with their North London rivals, while Arsenal came out of the recent 2-1 derby day defeat with a slew of headlines seemingly writing their back four’s obituary, they have in fact managed to ship five less goals than Villas-Boas’ side. If the critique aimed at Arsene Wenger’s back four was too fierce, than the praise that’s surrounded Spurs’ back four has certainly been a little too overzealous.

In recent weeks, the likes of Vertonghen and Caulker have perhaps dropped off in form as the season has gone on and with both of Spurs’ full-backs continuing to look enigmatic, perhaps it’s no surprise that Tottenham are looking a little shaky as we head-into the season’s run-in.

Although this isn’t something that has happened over night and you don’t rack up a record of having conceded more goals in the 90th minute and beyond than anyone else in the league, after a few games of indifferent form.

Despite Villas-Boas claiming to have solved Spurs’ last minute woes, the side still look vulnerable in a game’s closing stages and it seems staggering to think that a side who have conceded less shots per game (9.7) than anyone else in the Premier League, can sit with such an inferior defensive record as to that of their peers.

Concentration may not be an attribute as quantifiable to the cause as an aerial presence or esteemed technical skill, but judging by the disparity that Spurs possess defensively with those around them in the table, it could well be something that’s continuing to cause serious damage to their hopes an aspirations this season.