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Why Tottenham Hotspur Boss Mauricio Pochettino Needs To Swallow His Pride Over Toby Alderweireld

Toby Alderweireld appears to be on borrowed time at Tottenham Hotspur
Toby Alderweireld appears to be on borrowed time at Tottenham Hotspur

Unai Emery might be disappointed to learn that not all north London derbies are quite like the one he took charge of on Sunday afternoon.

The Arsenal boss, facing Spurs for the first time, saw his two half-time substitutions change the game back in the hosts’ favour.

It was an extraordinary 90 minutes of football, but in many ways it was absolutely typical – Tottenham really do have a knack for self-destructing at the Emirates.

Since they last won there under Harry Redknapp in 2010, they have thrown the lead away on five separate occasions.

The manner of the Lilywhites’ latest defeat will hurt, and not least because so many of their wounds were self-inflicted. It wasn’t Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Aaron Ramsey who dealt the first blow, but Mauricio Pochettino in his decision to leave out Toby Alderweireld.

The Belgian is whittling down his contract and looks unlikely to agree new terms. It is a precedent Pochettino set 18 months ago when he dropped Kyle Walker for the FA Cup semi-final, as well as important home games against Arsenal and Manchester United. If you don’t want to be here, you simply cannot expect to start the big games.

Back then, that principle was backed up by the emergence of Kieran Trippier as a very competent replacement, just as he was hitting form.

The situation with Alderweireld is very different. The centre-back is what holds the entire back four together and without the injured Davinson Sanchez, Spurs were left to rely on 20-year-old Juan Foyth.  

In his prior three league games, the Argentine struggled against Wolves, but impressed at Crystal Palace and again in the home meeting with Chelsea. As Meat Loaf would say, two out of three ain’t bad.

Yet there is something about the nature of a north London derby that makes mistakes much more serious. He gave the ball away, he found himself too far forward letting Arsenal’s attackers in behind, and he will take little solace from Pochettino’s post-match suggestion that he was one of the best players on the pitch.

The truth is the youngster was unfortunate to be placed in that position and with his more experienced team-mate on the bench, the pressure on him was multiplied.

The next conundrum Pochettino faces is, going forward, whether to swallow his pride regarding Alderweireld. Will he be dropped against United in January, for example, or if Spurs reach the later stages of the domestic cups? If there are no other extenuating circumstances, it is a point that is just not worth making.

Admittedly, since the end of September, Alderweireld has completed 11 of Spurs’ 12 games, only missing the League Cup victory over West Ham. Jan Vertonghen’s injury has added to the strain on his partner and given that he came back from a long-term layoff himself last season, it’s understandable that he is being carefully managed.

If the 29-year-old needed a rest, Wednesday’s game against managerless Southampton would surely have been the opportunity.   

Whatever the reasons behind it, Pochettino has now left himself open to questions about how he handles his best defender for the rest of Alderweireld’s time at the club – however short that may be.   

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