Tottenham’s exit from the Europa League was far from the understated whimper that many had envisaged. Sherwood’s troops took until after the 160th minute of their tie with Benfica to finally click into gear; and were it not for a contentious refereeing decision we could well have been seeing the Lilywhites in today’s draw.
Alas the football romanticists were disappointed, but last night was certainly a failure tinged with a definite sense of glory.
It is no accident though that Spurs’ revival was kick-started by the introduction of Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen, the former replacing the unconvincing Roberto Soldado. It was a substitution to effectively turn the game on its head, with Eriksen bossing the midfield and Kane offering some semblance of a focal point up front.
How though can a former Academy graduate prove to be more effective than a £26m signing?
This has probably been a question asked by a number of people throughout the season, and one that so many just do not have the answer for.
Roberto Soldado isn’t a dud; you only have to look at his record for Valencia over a number of seasons in La Liga to see that Spurs have bought genuine quality here. He has averaged nearly 20 goals a season in his last 3 years for Valencia in La Liga, putting him amongst Europe’s top marksmen. This isn’t a mickey mouse league either, some would even argue that despite the gulf in class amongst teams, La Liga is still up there with the Premier League in terms of quality.
But 6 league goals really doesn’t look like much of return on the investment Spurs made, and some fans are already pushing for the club to cut their losses here.
In Roberto Soldado Spurs bought the wrong type of striker, it really is as simple as that. Whether it was miscommunication between Director of Football and Manager we will never know, but clear Soldado doesn’t have the attributes to fit with the way Spurs are looking to play.
Spurs play as if they are expecting to have someone that will run into the channels, hold the ball up and create openings for others. AVB was looking for the complete forward; someone like Christian Benteke or Alvaro Negredo comes to mind in that respect. But Soldado isn’t like that; at Valencia he had midfielders in and around him looking to find him the pockets of space to exploit. In the 2010-11 season it was Juan Mata that racked up 12 assists and created 74 chances, a stark difference to the opportunities he has had in North London.
This isn’t an issue of a lone striker versus a striker partnership, at Valencia Soldado was often the lone striker, but he was never as isolated as he has become in North London. Spurs have completed the most long balls in the whole of the Europa League this season, which for me suggests a lack of cohesion between midfield and attack.
So what are the solutions?
If Spurs really want to get the most out of Soldado they need to offer him the support that he needs on a regular basis. One option is to play him alongside Emmanuel Adebayor in a 4-4-2, but my preference is actually to see a return to 4-2-3-1 with a genuine number 10 playing in behind the Spaniard. Getting a pair of wingers fit is a priority for Spurs to make this work, but most importantly is finding that advanced playmaker to complement the striker. Many have put Eriksen forward for this role but in my opinion the man to take on the second striker position is the elusive Erik Lamela. Christian Eriksen is most adept playing through the middle, but to drop him a little deeper wouldn’t be a huge harm for Spurs.
The second solution is simply for Spurs to sell up and accept that they made a mistake, a route that Daniel Levy is unlikely to be too keen on. Soldado’s sale would be an admittance of fault, something that is unlikely to chime with the Spurs chairman.
A lot will depend on the next manager at Spurs and the direction he wants to take. Without significant change at Spurs I cannot see a lot changing for Roberto Soldado, and that is a crying shame for someone who is clearly so gifted.