December 13 2013 Latest news:
By Ben Pearce, Tottenham correspondent
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
For all of the money that has been invested in exciting attacking talent, Tottenham are struggling to score in the Premier League, registering six goals in their seven top-flight fixtures to date.
That is the lowest out of the top seven teams, less than half as many as league leaders Arsenal – who have 14 - and just one more than the bottom four sides have mustered.
That did not look like a major concern before the weekend. After all, Christian Eriksen was yet to pull on a Spurs shirt when Tottenham drew a blank at the Emirates, Jose Mourinho’s sides are notoriously hard to break down and the Lilywhites had won their other four league games.
However, three of those victories were narrow 1-0 wins – against Crystal Palace, Swansea and Cardiff – which relied upon a clean sheet at the other end.
Now, in the wake of the shock 3-0 home defeat against West Ham on Sunday, the issue is being pulled into sharper focus: Why is this expensively-assembled squad struggling to find the net against top-flight opposition?
Firstly, it is important to remember that these attacking players still need time to gel. The footballing world is an impatient one and Spurs looked well ahead of schedule in their highly-impressive 2-0 home win over Norwich, and in their first-half display against Chelsea at the Lane.
However, the sorry second period against the Blues and the disappointing display against West Ham suggests that the evolution is not as advanced as it may have seemed.
Summer signing Erik Lamela probably embodies Spurs’ status at the moment – the young Argentine has shown flashes of his potential but is struggling for consistency.
It will come – but the current lack of Premier League goals means that fans are asking questions about Andre Villas-Boas’ forwards, and understandably so.
Spurs splashed out £26million on Roberto Soldado and the Spaniard is yet to score from open play in the Premier League – he netted a penalty in each of his first two games against Palace and Swansea but has now failed to register since August 25.
Meanwhile, Jermain Defoe has scored seven times in the Europa League and Capital One Cup, resulting in calls for him to replace Soldado against West Ham – yet when he was given his first Premier League start of the season against the Irons, he failed to justify the change.
The issue is not so much profligacy as a general lack of chances for the forwards. Admittedly, Defoe wasted a good opportunity early in the second half against the Hammers, and he also saw a powerful effort turned over the bar – but otherwise he struggled to get into the game. The same has often applied to Soldado.
The debate over the pair will doubtless continue after the international break, and there are subtle differences between the two.
Defoe tends to shoot on sight and has been clinical against lesser opposition so far this season, while Soldado is more of a team player around the edge of the box – indeed, his relatively meagre goal tally overlooks the fact that he has been involved in two of Gylfi Sigurdsson’s strikes.
However, the similarity in the pair’s physicality means that it takes the same approach to make the most of their talents and to get them involved in the most dangerous areas.
In both cases, Spurs have to get in behind their opponents – either playing them in with through balls or finding a route around the back and delivering low crosses in front of the goalmouth.
That can be easier said than done, particularly against defensive opponents like West Ham, who played six men in midfield with no-one up front on Sunday.
Faced with such resilience, work-rate and organisation, it takes an almost perfect move to get a small striker through one-on-one with the goalkeeper.
Spurs managed it once in 90 minutes against the Irons on Sunday as Paulinho freed Defoe - and the home side only mustered one low cross from the lively Townsend, which was just too far in front of the sliding Defoe.
Otherwise, the England man was marked out of the game, and there was little change when Soldado came on and Villas-Boas switched to 4-4-2. By that time, the Irons were defending a lead and had even less incentive to allow spaces in behind.
Lamela and Lewis Holtby also came on but, while the personnel changed, Spurs’ approach remained the same.
There was no Plan B and, for the second time in successive league games, Villas-Boas was unable to make a substitution that would give his opponents a different problem.
The previous weekend, Tottenham had been powerless to release the pressure that Chelsea exerted in the second half – every clearance or ball out of defence came straight back as 5ft 10ins Soldado was outjumped and outmuscled by his markers, and 5ft 7ins Defoe would have done little to change that.
Suddenly it is becoming a concern that Spurs have two similar strikers who possess the same weaknesses – a lack of physical presence and an ability to hold the ball up.
Look around the Premier League and the likes of Christian Benteke and Romelu Lukaku offer the complete package up front – power as well as pace.
Had one of them – or a similarly commanding forward - been playing for Spurs against Chelsea, the hosts might have spent less of the second period stuck inside their own half. And, had that type of frontman been available against West Ham, Tottenham would have had a bigger target to aim for – especially from wide areas – which would have enabled a more direct approach.
Of course, Spurs do have a player of that ilk in their ranks, but he is yet to appear this season.
Of course absent players often look better when the team is struggling, but the mindset, fitness and future of Emmanuel Adebayor looks like a bigger issue this week.
And, if the Togo international does not play for Tottenham again or fails to rediscover the standards that made him such a powerful weapon in the 2011-12 campaign, then the question is: Might Spurs regret signing another Defoe, rather than another Adebayor?
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