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Tottenham: Was Lenglet a smart choice for Conte?

Spurs manager, Antonio Conte, signed a new centre-back last week in the shape of Clement Lenglet, for his three-at-the-back system. 

Lenglet will join Spurs next season, on loan from Barcelona without an option to buy, but how does the performance of five other centre-backs linked to the club compare? Let’s assess the decision to sign the Frenchman by Fabio Paratici versus other centre-back competition.

Clement Lenglet

In comparison with the other contenders, Lenglet was a surprising choice of signing for Spurs’ new centre-back. With only seven starts and 14 sub appearances last season, it’s safe to say that Lenglet has fallen out of favour at Barcelona.  This shows in his low market value at only £10.8m.

Lenglet didn’t score last term but did achieve one assist.  In addition, the 27-year-old Frenchman won 20 tackles, 13 interceptions and 93 duels. These stats are not too bad considering his lack of playing time under new Barca boss Xavi. 

Lenglet’s speciality is his versatile passing ability, using both short and long-range passes to successfully progress the ball up the pitch.  His 6 foot 1 height advantage has also helped him to win 39% of his aerial duels last campaign. A piece of his game he needs to work on is his concentration, as he’s often caught off-guard. He also draws a lot of fouls – committing a total of 19 in 2021/22.

Bremer

Torino's Bremer celebrates scoring their first goal with Tommaso Pobega

Bremer, a 25-year-old centre-back from Brazil, is valued at £31.5m and was linked with Tottenham earlier this summer. The defensive player of the year last season, in the Serie A, he has the fifth highest duels won in the League, including 47% successful aerial duels.

His aerial dominance comes into play from corners from which he has scored three headers in 2021/22.  A key strength is his physicality and outstanding upper body strength; which would have come in handy when facing strikers such as Erling Haaland if he’d moved to Spurs.

Bremer can also function as a left-back but this wouldn’t entirely be necessary in Conte’s system as he tends to play with wing-backs. Other big clubs including Juventus, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man United have also been interested in this player, demonstrating how highly thought of he is at Europe’s top table.

The up and coming star has good on-the-ball skills, as you would expect from a Brazilian, so can play out of a high press. This would be effective against a team such as Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool with their Gegenpress system. 

Creativity is Bremer’s downfall, with only one assist last term, although he can’t be faulted for that as he isn’t a typical, ball-playing, modern centre-back. It is his defensive skills that stand out, shown by his combined 154 tackles and interceptions this season. These statistics evoke memories of a prime Nemanja Vidic. 

Milan Skriniar

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Milan Skriniar is a player who excelled under Conte at Inter Milan and unsurprisingly, was then linked with Spurs once the Italian took over. The 27-year-old would be an amazing addition to any team. He’s valued at £58.5m by Transfermarkt and scored four goals last season with no assists.

Skriniar’s 92.9% pass success rate was the highest in the whole Inter Milan squad and combined with his amazing passing range, it’s clear to see that he is in the elite bracket when it comes to ball-playing centre-backs. He also likes to bring the ball out of defence and move up the pitch. A rock in defence, he has no errors leading to a goal.

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How well do you know Spurs manager Antonio Conte? Question 1. During his playing days, in which position did Conte typically operate?

The Slovakian is good physically which would make him a great addition to the Tottenham defence. Aerial ability is another good quality; he won 50% of his aerial duels last campaign. Combined, interceptions and tackles total 72, showing he is a really good mix of your modern, ball-playing centre-back who also has good defensive attributes.

Josko Gvardiol

RB Leipzig defender Josko Gvardiol in action against Manchester City

Gvardiol is a typical, modern centre-back valued and valued at £31.5m, may have come cheaper than Skriniar. Religiously linked with Spurs this summer, the Croat’s ball-playing and carrying abilities are superb. He has an assertiveness on the ball combined with good one-on-one defending. His passing ability comes into play when pushing up the pitch and breaking midfield lines. He achieved two goals and three assists across all competitions.

Compared to proven Premier League player Antonio Rudiger, Gvardiol would certainly be an asset to Spurs and the League.

Physicality is an attribute, perfected during his time playing in the very physical Croatian top-flight at Dinamo Zagreb.

He’s also a pacey centre-back, hitting a top speed of 21 miles per hour. This mix of superb physicality and pace means strikers find it difficult to pass him. Gvardiol has the potential to be the next big-name defender, as he’s capable of dealing with all types of striker, including standing up to the physicality of Erling Haaland and Dusan Vlahovic and dealing with the pace and trickery of Darwin Nunez and Kylian Mbappe.

He’s won 89 of his aerial duels and 47 tackles and could also operate as a defensive midfielder due to his extensive passing range, physicality and defensive attributes. He’s the perfect player for any team.

Stefan de Vrij

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De Vrij was another favourite of Conte at Inter. With his contract running down, his transfer value has deteriorated which has put Spurs on red alert. The Dutchman won 116 of his aerial duels last season which was the second most in the Inter Milan squad. His passing is amazing with a 91.8% completion rate, although his actual range is limited. He would fit a team like Man City incredibly because of his short and mid-range passing.

De Vrij doesn’t have the best defensive skills; which could be a huge flaw in the Premier League. Compared to current Spurs centre-back Cristian Romero, he lacks in nearly every department except passing. Romero’s completed 24 more tackles and 1 more interception than de Vrij. 

The 29-year-old managed no goal contributions last season which is quite underwhelming news for Spurs fans. He’s also conceded three yellow cards and is particularly good at keeping hold of the ball.

Best fit ranking for Spurs and the Premier League:  

1. Josko Gvardiol

2. Bremer

3. Milan Skriniar

4. Clement Lenglet 

5. Stefan De Vrij

Although Lenglet has joined Spurs next season on loan, Barcelona may well let him go cheaply after the temporary period ends.  This loan will be a commitment-free opportunity for Conte to see whether he can transform Lenglet’s form by demanding more of him and increasing his game time. 

The Frenchman’s left-foot dominance will complement Romero’s right-foot play but pivotally, will Lenglet be able to improve his consistency and awareness in defence to become a challenge for the Premier League’s formidable right-wingers, including Mo Salah and Bukayo Saka?

With the support and leadership of fellow Frenchman and Spurs Captain – Hugo Lloris – Conte must believe they have a strong chance. Barca urgently need to sell players in order to ease their financial troubles and may have to reduce players’ asking prices. With that in mind, if Conte can make a success of Lenglet next season, Spurs could bag themselves a bargain the following season.

Before the signing of Lenglet, it felt as though Tottenham were most likely sign Inter centre-back Stefan de Vrij as we knew Conte wanted him and that de Vrij wanted a reunion with his former manager.  One big problem with De Vrij joining Spurs would have been that both he and Romero are right-foot dominant centre-backs; meaning one of them would need to play outside their comfort zone, impacting performance. 

The Dutchman also lacks pace which is a huge negative in one-on-one contests with modern strikers.  It’s good to see Spurs rising above Conte’s professional connections and resisting De Vrij.

In our opinion, Gvardiol is the best fit for the Spurs backline. He would complement Romero tremendously well because they play with opposite feet.  At only 20 the young Croatian is making waves in the football world and thus, this is a transfer that may be more likely to happen in a couple of years time when RB Leipzig could cash in for a huge fee.

Skriniar has some excellent qualities but he isn’t the best fit for Spurs – he wouldn’t work well with Tottenham centre-back Romero as they are both right-footed and his transfer price is significant.

Skriniar is an accomplished player with an impressive passing range whether it’s over a couple of yards or half the pitch. He makes good use of this with his 6 foot 1 height advantage – all his league goals were headers last season, making him a threat from corners.  This style of play would fit well with the possession tactics of Pep Guardiola or Erik ten Hag.

Bremer is a true warrior, someone who isn’t afraid to get stuck in or sacrifice himself for the team, similarly to the aforementioned Romero. These are the qualities of a Premier League-level centre-back who could excel in a move to a top-flight Premier League team. After the success of the Argentine’s move from the Italian top-flight, Spurs could have had the duo as the future stars of their defence.

To sum things up, it would appear that Spurs haven’t yet made a decision on their next centre-back, only postponed it until next year as they hunt for a longer-term solution than Lenglet.  There are some fine players among the other contenders and there is hope that one day, supporters will enjoy watching Gvardiol and Bremer in the Premier League.

Article title: Tottenham: Was Lenglet a smart choice for Conte?

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