Why Defoe faces the same problem with England as at Spurs

Jermain Defoe endured a frustrating season on the sidelines under Harry Redknapp, and looks unlikely to start for Roy Hodgson at Euro 2012.

Jermain Defoe spent most of last season wondering if he would even get a seat on the plane for Euro 2012, so it was hardly a surprise to see him on the bench against France.

With the likes of Bobby Zamora, Daniel Sturridge and even his former team-mate Peter Crouch all in the mix at the end of the campaign, the Spurs striker will be relieved to even be involved in Poland and Ukraine at all.

However, having scored 17 times last season despite his relative lack of action, and with 15 international goals to his name, the 29-year-old could also be forgiven for feeling slightly aggrieved.

Defoe led the line at the World Cup two years ago, and scored the all-important winner in the 1-0 win over Slovenia that took England into the last 16.


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Wayne Rooney’s suspension has left him as easily the most experienced international striker in the England squad, and he has not lost any of his attributes over the last two years.

Yet there was little question of Defoe starting against France. The focus was on the battle between Danny Welbeck and Andy Carroll – despite them having just nine caps between them – as it was in the two warm-ups.

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Of course, Defoe had just suffered a devastating family bereavement, and had understandably taken some time away from the England squad to return home in the build-up to the big match.

But there is little to suggest that that was a factor in Hodgson’s team selection against Les Bleus.

He was always going to start on the bench – and understandably so. Hodgson set his side up to play 4-4-1-1, a system that Spurs fans are very familiar with – and a system which Defoe is ill-suited for.

Time and again “the little man”, as Harry Redknapp affectionately calls him, has proved that he is physically unable to play as a lone front man ahead of a second striker.

Standing at 5ft 6ins and with the slight frame of a nippy, elusive sniper, Defoe is poorly matched against giant Premier League and international centre-backs, who dominate him on the ground and in the air. He has many qualities, as his strike record over the years proves - but hold-up play is not one of them.

Those who watched the 1-0 defeat at QPR in April knew what was going to happen as soon as the team was announced and Defoe started instead of the injured, and pivotally important, Emmanuel Adebayor.

Spurs’ efforts to relieve pressure and launch their trademark breaks were instantly scuppered as Defoe lost the initial ball through the middle, resulting in sustained possession for the Rs.

The same issue was evident on Monday as England were penned back by France, struggling to make their clearances stick on the halfway line, establish a platform in the midfield and attempt to turn defence into attack.

Welbeck and Ashley Young were also unable to hold off their markers and retain possession, which raises question marks over Hodgson’s tactics – but Defoe would not have solved the issue.

And, given that he and Welbeck play in a similar style, the fact that Hodgson opted for the Manchester United man suggests that the Tottenham forward will have to get used to the bench.

As Spurs fans know, Defoe is most effective when operating in a simple 4-4-2 formation, when he has an out-and-out strike partner. In recent seasons, he has been most effective alongside Peter Crouch or Emmanuel Adebayor.

However, that forces the whole side to play a more open, aggressive but vulnerable system – one which Redknapp was moving away from last season, and which Hodgson is unlikely to employ at Euro 2012, despite his need for a victory in at least one of the next two group games.

Indeed, while the England boss has suggested that he will play with “two strikers” when Rooney is available, the Three Lions’ talisman is most likely to replace Young in the deeper-lying role.

“We all know Rooney is best in that position, as a No10,” said Hodgson. “From my conversations with him, from all the games I’ve watched him play, I think he’s extremely dangerous when he plays as a second striker.

“Young did the same job. When you play with two strikers, one of them is dropping deep. Every team in the world does that today.

“It’s quite good sometimes if the bigger man is the one who comes deep and becomes the target in that space between midfield and their defenders, and your quick man is the one who is actually on the shoulders of the defenders.”

There may be a role for a ‘quick man’ in this England set-up - and Defoe’s combination of pace and a deadly eye for goal will always provide goals in the Premier League - but Hodgson already has those qualities in Welbeck.

Tactically, Defoe has the same problem as he does at Spurs, and he therefore finds himself in exactly the same position – sitting on the bench.

Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs

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