Spurs need a striker - but is Luis Suarez really the answer?
IF THERE was one issue which was highlighted in the goalless draw with Manchester United, it was Tottenham’s lack of a cutting edge and their need for a new striker.
This is hardly news to Harry Redknapp, who was hunting for a top-class forward in the summer, but the requirement for a big-name frontman is becoming more pressing as the battle for the top four intensifies, and the chances continue to go begging.
Spurs are the lowest scorers of the top five teams, having netted 31 goals in 22 games – less than Bolton and Newcastle, let alone their rivals at the top of the table.
That is certainly not down to a lack of adventure and Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart can be excused, having netted 16 of the 31 goals between them (Van der Vaart has nine league goals and Bale has seven).
Luka Modric and Aaron Lennon could, perhaps, chip in with a few more, but the real problem is in front of them.
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Tottenham have four international strikers – three if Robbie Keane leaves – which has always been seen as an embarrassment of riches, and a selection headache for the manager.
Redknapp cast his eye over the likes of Luis Fabiano and Luis Suarez in the summer but a new star striker was a luxury, not a necessity. That analysis has probably changed since then.
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The warning signs came in the first game of the season as the Lilywhites outplayed Manchester City at White Hart Lane but drew 0-0.
That result still looks costly and, five months later, a goalless draw against the other team in Manchester has cast the spotlight on a serious problem – Tottenham’s strikers are not scoring in the league.
Crouch, Defoe and Pavlyuchenko have mustered just FIVE goals between them in the top flight – Pavlyuchenko has four, Crouch has one and Defoe is yet to break his duck.
That compares most unfavourably with Spurs’ rivals, given that Carlos Tevez and Dimitar Berbatov have both scored 14.
Of course, Crouch will protest that he has scored six goals in the Champions League and Defoe will argue that, in a season which has been disrupted by injury and suspension, he has still scored eight times in other competitions - including a hat-trick for England. Pavlyuchenko’s tally is also doubled to eight if his four European goals are included.
However, that is little consolation to Redknapp or the Spurs fans as they survey this week’s league table, and their prospects of dining at Europe’s top table again next season.
Once again, we return to a familiar topic, and the impact of Van der Vaart’s arrival. While Spurs played 4-4-2 last season, they now tend to play 4-4-1-1, which has arguably disrupted a successful system.
Crouch and Defoe would probably prefer to play in tandem, as they did at Portsmouth before linking up again at Tottenham, but Van der Vaart has scored nine goals in 16 league games – a far better strike-rate than any of the
out-and-out forwards, making him undroppable.
As the season progresses, it is becoming apparent that, while Redknapp has three possible partners for Van der Vaart, none of them are ideal.
Defoe is too small to hold the ball up and, with his and Van der Vaart’s combined lack of height, Redknapp believes that his side would have to play “perfect football” for his “little ’uns” to prosper.
Crouch, on the other hand, has set up a number of Van der Vaart’s goals, nodding the ball down into dangerous areas, but his own limitations were exposed against United.
If the 6ft 7ins frontman meets his match in the air, he becomes largely irrelevant, and he also cannot be relied upon to finish when the big chance comes his way – as it did in the eighth minute on Sunday.
Meanwhile Pavlyuchenko remains the third choice. Before facing United, Redknapp admitted to a selection dilemma between Crouch and Defoe, but did not mention the Russian, who remained on the bench as Defoe joined Crouch and Van der Vaart for the final 15 minutes on Sunday.
What Redknapp needs is a Frankenstein-like amalgamation of Crouch and Defoe – someone with the aerial prowess and physicality to hold up play and tee up Van der Vaart from high balls, but who also has the pace to get in behind the defence, coupled with an accurate eye for goal from all ranges.
The resulting ‘monster’ would probably be very similar to Newcastle’s Andy Carroll, hence Tottenham’s firm interest in the January transfer window – and that is also why Spurs have failed to make a move for Ajax’s 5ft 11ins livewire Suarez.
“Suarez is a good player, but the problem is that he’s a second striker really,” says Redknapp. “He can play wide and come inside in a 4-3-3 formation, or he can play off a front man. He’s not a target man, so he would play like Van der Vaart.
“You can see him playing with Fernando Torres at Liverpool – people say that Liverpool are interested in him and you could see him playing off Torres and dropping Steven Gerrard back into the middle. But for us it is a problem because Rafa plays there.”
Spurs continue to be linked with Suarez but, given that their interest in the Uruguay international during the summer preceded Van der Vaart’s arrival, Redknapp’s assertion that Tottenham no longer need the Ajax frontman seems to ring true.
Whatever happens, though, Spurs certainly need to start finding the net, otherwise they are in danger of missing another goal, the biggest one of all – another campaign of Champions League football.