Inside Lane: A new solution to Spurs’ striking problem?
Tottenham blogger Chris Miller examines the Lilywhites’ selection issues up front and suggests some alternative candidates for the No10 role.
Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson were seen by many Spurs fans as direct replacements for Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric.
Simply put, they are not. Not only are they both a level below that of the outgoing duo, they are both very different types of players.
Modric loved to get on the ball in deep midfield, and either keep possession with intelligent passing and movement or drive forward, using his dribbling ability to ghost past the opposition midfield.
Meanwhile, Van der Vaart was a player who dropped into the space between the front man and midfield, linking play with one-twos, playing reverse passes or simply ensuring that we kept the ball for long periods. The common theme is that they were both possession players who rarely lost the ball, and often created chances.
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Sigurdsson’s main strengths are his late running into the box, his shooting from distance and his dead-ball delivery, while Dempsey’s main strength is his ability to come in off the flank untracked and get shots away.
Neither is a possession player. Neither is likely to drop deep and dictate or even to link play. To expect either to play a Modric or a Van der Vaart role is unrealistic.
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However, whilst neither is a direct replacement, I do not feel that Andres Villas-Boas will get the best out of either while Jermain Defoe is leading the line.
Defoe’s scoring record this season has been reasonable - five goals in 13 starts and one substitute appearance in all competitions.
Yet it has often been said that if Defoe doesn’t score, he achieves very little - not least in games like Saturday’s against Wigan, where he only touched the ball 11 times.
To select Sigurdsson or Dempsey along with Defoe means that you are essentially picking two forward players who aren’t too interested in build-up play.
Conversely, we have a player in Emmanuel Adebayor who thrives on this side of the game, who encourages ball retention around the opposition box and is therefore much better suited to playing with either.
The main criticism of Adebayor among fans is that he is not predatory enough - yet he has a better strike-rate in English football than Defoe.
But it is not the strike-rate that differentiates him from Defoe - nor is it his strength or physical presence, although they help.
The key to Adebayor being a leader of the line is his intelligence. He has a terrific awareness of other players, and is very unselfish. Indeed, he was the only player in the Premier League last season to get into double figures for both goals AND assists.
Last campaign both Sigurdsson and Dempsey showed their qualities when linking with a striker who can retain the ball in the final third and bring others into the game - Danny Graham for Sigurdsson at Swansea, and Bobby Zamora for Dempsey at Fulham before his move to QPR in January. We will surely see the best of both when Adebayor becomes a first-team regular again.
However, my suggestion is more left-field. Why not play a more natural No10? If Villas-Boas is prepared to put his trust in Sigurdsson (23) and Jake Livermore (22) then why not Yago Falque (22) or Ryan Mason (21)?
Both are far more suited to the traditional No10 role. They thrive on having the ball at their feet - at passing and moving, at unlocking defences.
They will create an option for a deep midfield duo who desperately need options ahead of them - note Tom Huddlestone’s constant sideways passes on Saturday due to a lack of movement in the final third. They are young, raw players and will make mistakes, but no more than Sigurdsson or Dempsey are making right now.
Falque showed a level of maturity in his performance against Norwich last week, making intelligent decisions and delivering well into the box.
He has predominantly played from the right flank in his appearances so far, but seems well-equipped to play centrally, possessing decent strength on the ball and good vision.
As for Mason, he is a somewhat “un-English” player, and I have enjoyed watching him play since he was 16.
Even in those days, he always played like he was 10 years older - his appreciation for other players always stood out - and I think that now, with Sigurdsson and Dempsey low in confidence and struggling for form, is a perfect opportunity to blood him.
Follow me on Twitter @WindyCOYS