Davinson Sanchez is already impressing for Tottenham. Adam Bate was at Wembley to watch the defender’s Champions League debut and believes he can make Spurs stronger in the biggest games.
As Heung-Min Son took the adulation following his opening goal in Tottenham’s 3-1 win over Borussia Dortmund at Wembley on Wednesday night, it was noticeable that Toby Alderweireld was quick to congratulate Davinson Sanchez instead. Mousa Dembele, Eric Dier and Jan Vertonghen soon rushed to join him.
It was the young Colombian defender whose good work had initiated the counter-attack, cleverly intercepting an attempted through-ball inside his own area and then clearing the ball upfield for Spurs to break. Not a bad way for Sanchez to mark the occasion of his first ever appearance in the Champions League.
The need for a £42m centre-back was not immediately obvious given Dier’s flexibility and the long-term success of the partnership between Alderweireld and Vertonghen. However, in back-to-back wins over Everton and Dortmund, Sanchez has shown more than enough to suggest that he can bring something different to this Spurs side.
Different was the theme of the night as Mauricio Pochettino’s men surrendered the ball against Dortmund but still won the match. Spurs elected to soak up the pressure and play on the counter-attack. It worked. “It is an important win when you do not dominate the opponent but you show different strengths,” said Pochettino afterwards.
Spurs have been so impressive in recent seasons that it seems churlish to point to weaknesses but the fact that they had only the fifth best away record in the Premier League last season compared to the best in the country on home turf has come to the fore in light of their Wembley travails. Pochettino has to find a way to grind out more wins.
Against a strong Dortmund side, Sanchez’s performance suggested he can help with that. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is an intelligent striker with the pace to trouble even the best defenders, but he matched him stride for stride in an engaging duel. Tottenham were confident enough to leave Sanchez one-on-one with the Dortmund man at times.
The 21-year-old earned the roars of the Wembley crowd when making two good challenges in quick succession in the first half and left Aubameyang in a heap soon after the break as he continued to embrace the contest. Sanchez also finished the game having made six clearances – more than any other player on the pitch.
That statistic is all the more remarkable given that no Tottenham starter had fewer touches of the ball. But that is how Pochettino planned it, the presence of Sanchez in the centre freeing up the team’s ball-playing defenders instead. Alderweireld played the most passes of any Spurs player and Vertonghen made only two fewer.
Indeed, the latter even felt liberated enough to embark on adventurous runs down either flank with his side leading after the break. In contrast, Sanchez knew his role, the profuse apologies that followed his one failed attempt to carry the ball out from defence confirmed that much. From that point onwards, he was content to stay put.
Whether Pochettino deems it necessary to have a stopper centre-back positioned between the two Belgians at home to Swansea on Saturday remains to be seen. It may be that Sanchez makes way should Tottenham choose a more adventurous line-up in the hope of breaking down their opponents in a game they will surely expect to dominate.
But in the biggest games, when Spurs may look to contain instead of control, they now have a player in Davinson Sanchez with all the attributes to face that challenge with confidence. A player with those “different strengths” in the words of Pochettino. It could prove a crucial addition if Tottenham are take that next step this season.