Despite still having plenty to play for in the Premier League, one eye is already being cast to how Tottenham Hotspur could shape up under Antonio Conte next season.
Fabio Paratici is already trying to build on the squad and, reportedly, a left-sided centre back is his main priority.
It’s important to state that Ben Davies, Spurs’ current first-choice left centre back, has done a fine job since Conte has come in.
He has taken to the role very well, filling out his duties in a very solid fashion. However, given his overall limited ability, there is a chance to really upgrade in this position, or, at the very least, give Davies some competition for a starting place as he is the only option at the moment.
I’ve shortlisted three left-footed centre-backs who could be viable options in the summer. They had to be aggressive, competent defenders who are comfortable playing through pressure, below the age of 26, and ideally a good ball-carrier.
JOŠKO GVARDIOL – RB LEIPZIG – 20
Joško Gvardiol is ready-made for the Premier League. Coming through the ranks at Dinamo Zagreb, he was tested at 18-years-old in an aggressive, physical league but the Croatian passed with flying colours. His form at Zagreb earned himself a move to RB Leipzig in 2020.
He was loaned back to Zagreb, but the 20-year-old is now a star in Domenico Tedesco’s Champions League hunting side. He stands at an imposing figure being 6 ft2 inches tall, but he is rather elegant and swift. He is quick across the ground and recovers well.
Alongside having this graceful nature to his game, his physicality compliments his technicality well. It allows him to dominate in one-on-one situations.
Gvardiol’s physical frame ensures that he is a burden for attackers. He bullies off opposing players when they have the ball and is very difficult to dispossess when he is in possession as the 20-year-old is press resistant and comfortable with the ball in his grasp. For Leipzig, he often carries the ball into midfield.
His passing range is impressive. He is constantly looking for an angled pass with his left foot into dangerous players between the lines.
Most importantly, he understands playing in a back three. Tedesco has played Gvardiol as left centre-back which mean he would instantly come into Conte’s side and improve it.
However, with the Croatian international tied down until 2026, Spurs would have to accept a huge dent in the resources. However, Leipzig have a history of selling huge assets with the knowledge that they have a conveyor belt of young talents.
This is also assuming he would be interested in moving to North London after just settling into a new side. Still, what is certain is Gvardiol’s talent. The sky is truly the limit.
NICO SCHLOTTERBECK – FREIBURG – 22
Freiburg are a team on the rise. In 2016, they were a 2. Bundesliga side, but only six years later, under the excellent coaching of Christian Streich, they have become one of Germany’s best teams and now have a genuine chance of securing Champions League football next season.
Freiburg’s most valuable asset is Nico Schlotterbeck, a centre back who was loaned to Union Berlin last season but has since exploded into one of the most exciting defenders In Europe.
At 22 years old, he possesses maturity and timing beyond his years. He shows similar tendencies to Spurs’ new maverick Cristian Romero, regarding how aggressive they both defend the space in front of them. He is a ‘dog’ type of defender, instead of cat-like Eric Dier for example.
His main quality is his ball-paying: he is the epitome of the modern defender. He is a risk-taker in possession, happy to take on a forward who is pressing him to progress the ball.
The German international will opt for a forward pass instead of a safe one without hesitation and also constantly plays long passes to runners beyond the opposition defensive line, which would suit Son-Heung Min a lot.
It is not unusual at all to see Schlotterbeck driving with the ball deep into the opposition half, attacking the space made by left wing-back Christian Gunter. Standing tall at 191cm, he also has the ability to over-power small strikers.
Like Gvardiol, he is also very familiar with a Conte system, playing on the left of a back three. This would be an unbelievable coup for Spurs, but it will be a hard one to pull off. Germany’s finest, Bayern Munich, are already circling around to steal one of the country’s finest talents.
LISANDRO MARTINEZ – AJAX – 24
Ajax’s scouting network is arguably the best in world football. The club have begun scouting in South America and one find has been Argentina centre-back Lisandro Martinez. This signing has been the best and most influential in the Erik Ten Hag era.
He has been a mainstay of this current Ajax side since his moving from Argentinian club Defensa y Justicia in 2019.
Erik Ten Hag’s Ajax have a huge emphasis on playing out from the back, with the goalkeeper acting as an additional centre-back. They are extremely high-risk and expansive in build-up, with Martinez involved in this.
The 24-year-old is very commanding and calm in possession, so much so that he is allowed to abandon his role at centre-back to sometimes act as deep-lying midfielder beyond the first line of pressure.
This is because the Argentine is very comfortable playing in tight areas, always backing himself to get out of situations. His ability on the ball is more that of a midfielder.
His switch of play is the most striking part of his ball-playing. His diagonal switches have incredible accuracy and can be key in disrupting a low block – this pattern of play was lethal with Hakim Zyiech in 2019/2020 and still is with Anthony or Steven Berghius.
In terms of defending, he is not like the others shortlisted in terms of his physical presence and aggressive nature, but he leans on his intelligence and spatial awareness to thwart forwards.
He can step up to dispossess, or back off to defend the space – it all depends on the situation. Martinez is an extremely intelligent and cultured defender.
Furthermore, he has previously played for Argentina alongside Romero, which would only help him to fit in. The 24-year-old does however field out in a back four for Ajax and Argentina, but he should have no trouble adjusting.
Again, this would be a high fee but with Ajax always silling to sell on their highest assets – and with Ten Hag’s imminent departure sure to mix things up – there is always a chance.
Real Madrid and Barcelona both have been rumoured, so Spurs will have to act quick. It would be a brilliant coup for a defender with Champions League experience and an extremely high ceiling.
By: Will Furness / @w_furness1