“We are a young team and need this type of performance to believe,” Mauricio Pochettino said following Tottenham’s battling 1-1 draw with Real Madrid on Tuesday night. Spurs were on the backfoot for much of the match, having just 33.8% opossession at the Bernabeu, but ground out a vital point in their quest to secure a spot in the knockout stages of the Champions League. A host of Spurs men came away with immense credit from the stalemate, notably Hugo Lloris, Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko, but the draw marked another strong showing for Davinson Sanchez.
The Colombian was a club-record arrival from Ajax over the summer and while teams largely break their transfer records to sign a world-class forward or a household name, Tottenham did so to bolster the Premier League’s best defence. Mauricio Pochettino’s side shipped fewer goals (26) than any team in England’s top tier last term and have maintained that defensive resilience, conceding just five league goals this season. With Sanchez at the back, though, Pochettino is able to field a three-man defence more regularly, safe in the knowledge he now has three quality centre-backs to help deny opponents.
Previously courted by Barcelona, Spurs did well to pick up the 21-year-old, even if they had to spend big to convince Ajax to sell. However, while a host of new signings have settled into Premier League football with ease, and attracted the fanfare to go with their good start to life in England, it feels like Sanchez’s impressive form, and subsequent accompanying plaudits, have gone a little under the radar.
“We believe he will be one of the best centre-backs in the world,” Pochettino said back in August and as a centre-back during his playing days, you’d back the Argentine to identify defensive talent and successfully tap into the potential on offer. Having significantly improved Spurs’ defensive solidity during his time in north London, Pochettino is well placed to bring Sanchez’s game on and help establish the youngster as one of the best in his position in football.
There are rough edges that need smoothing out, but a manager as meticulous as Pochettino with a proven track record of developing young players suggests Sanchez is in the right place to take his game to the next level. In a Spurs side that looks to play the ball out from the back and dominate opponents – only Manchester City (64.9%) have averaged more possession than Tottenham (60.7%) in the Premier League this season – the Colombia international is abiding to the demands of his manager.
Of those to make five or more Premier League starts this season, only John Stones (97.1%) has a better pass success rate than Sanchez (94%), that return coming from an average of 66.9 passes per 90, the fifth highest of all Spurs players. Having honed his game at Ajax, who firmly believe in playing the ball out from defence, Sanchez has brought this element of his game to England, while his style of denying opposition forwards means he is an ideal fit for the rigours of Premier League football.
Utilising his athleticism and speed to quickly recover when an opponent tries to get the better of him, Sanchez has been dribbled past just four times in his six Premier League appearances as attackers struggle to get the better of him in a foot race. There have been hairy moments to match his top form, notably the push on Andy Carroll late on in Spurs’ 3-2 win over West Ham last month that could have seen the Hammers awarded a penalty in the defeat at the London Stadium, but he’s taken to his new surroundings like a duck to water.
There is more to come from Sanchez, with his Spurs career very much in the infancy, but he’s shown enough in so few games to suggest he is a defender who can go to the top. There’s a reason Barcelona were credited with an interest in the centre-back over the summer and their loss is very much Spurs’ gain. Sanchez may not have received the acclaim he perhaps deserves, yet there’s no denying he has hit the ground running and then some on the back of his move to England.