If Tottenham have suffered from one intrinsic weakness this season, it’s been a lack of efficiency in front of goal.
So far this year, the Lilywhites have averaged less than a goal a game, with just six in their first seven Premier League fixtures, despite the fact the White Hart Lane outfit forked out a whopping £74million on attacking talent over the summer, in the form of new signings Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen, Roberto Soldado and Nacer Chadli.
The Spaniard in particular has been rather disappointing, considering his preceding reputation from his feats with Valencia and his £26million price-tag, which until Lamela arrived in North London a few weeks later, was Tottenham’s record-breaking inward transfer fee.
Players from abroad often take a while to settle in the English top flight, especially if like Soldado they bear no particular physical advantage in terms of pace, height or power, but his performances so far this season have hardly been inspiring or suggesting of greater times ahead.
Barring two successful spot kicks, the 28 year-old has failed to find the score sheet, and averaged just 2.1 shots per game – some way behind his Premier League counterparts, such as Olivier Giroud, 3.9, Rickie Lambert, 3.7, Edin Dzeko, 3.4, Romelu Lukaku, 3.3 Loic Remy, 3.2, Daniel Sturridge and Michu, 3.1 , and Alvaro Negredo, 2.3, to name a few.
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You’d argue Soldado’s limited efficiency in the final third was a symptom of Tottenham’s lukewarm start to the campaign in which they’ve hardly been a dominant and imposing force going forward, but despite the fact the Lilywhites have claimed almost as many victories as goals this season, they’ve averaged 19 shots per game, six on target, and 33% of their possession has been in the attacking third. It seems Soldado has been rather absent whilst all this attacking play has been going on.
The Spain international was even dropped by Andre Villas-Boas at the weekend against West Ham to be replaced by Jermain Defoe. Admittedly, the England international has been in hot form in the auxiliary tournaments this season, with seven goals for the League cup and Europa League combined, and also has a knack for scoring against his former clubs, but it hardly bodes confidence on the Portuguese’s part to bench a £26million summer signing during a fixture in which the game plan was to let Tottenham’s greater quality on the ball tell.
It begs the question – Was Soldado the right choice of striker for Spurs in the summer?
Of course, as previously stated, the 28 year-old has only been at White Hart Lane a matter of months, and it can take even the most talented players time to settle in a new country. That process will be made even harder by the fact he’s not the only new face in North London; overall, the Lilywhites have brought in seven new players this summer, whilst the first team as a whole tries to re-invent itself without the talismanic influence of Gareth Bale.
The new creative hub at the tip of Tottenham’s midfield is still in development – Erik Lamela is yet to play a full half of Premier League football, Christian Eriksen has showed glimpses of brilliance but hasn’t controlled a match from the offset to the final whistle as many would like him to, and Lewis Holtby is still recovering from a summer injury – and perhaps when Tottenham’s midfield start to flex their creative might in a more imposing manner, providing greater support to Soldado in the final third, the Spaniard will find it easier to get on the score sheet in open play. There’s no doubt he’s been an isolated element for prolonged periods of matches during the Lilywhites’ opening fixtures so far this season.
That being said however, it’s my speculation that Soldado is quite simply not the right type of striker for Tottenham at this moment in time. Last season, the Lilywhites were a counter-attacking outfit, so it’s hard to tell quite where a 5 foot 10 striker, bearing no particular strength or pace, fits in to the Tottenham game plan going forward. He’s already shown in his seven Premier League outings to date that he’s not the most capable when it comes to holding up the ball or bringing supporting midfielders into the game.
Things are slightly different this season without the counter-attacking machine that is Gareth Bale, as the Lilywhites look to adopt a more possession-based style of football, and although I’ve criticised Soldado’s physique, he comfortably fulfilled the lone striker role at Valencia, netting 30 times in all competitions during his final season in Spain.
It’s that level of prolific goalscoring Daniel Levy willingly paid £26million for, despite the precarious financial position of the Spaniard’s former club. But the Premier League is incredibly different in style to La Liga, especially in terms of quality on the ball, and I have my doubts regarding Soldado’s effectiveness for a team that regularly fields two holding midfielders in the starting line-up and the majority of their attacking play is sourced from the flanks.
Does the Spurs striker offer anything particularly different in the final third to his team-mate Jermain Defoe? Both fit the light-weight poacher category, both are incredibly limited in their contributions to build-up play – Soldado has averaged just 20 passes per game this season – and both would most likely finish up with somewhere between 12 and 18 goals this year if they made around 30 Premier League starts.
Surely a 4-2-3-1 counter-attacking system, based around three attacking midfielders as the integral cogs going forward, would be better off with a more commanding and physical presence to provide a platform to build from in the final third, or a speedy striker who can get in behind the line of defence to stretch play and create space for the midfield three. Andre Villas-Boas’s more technical approach, centred around the striker and three supporting midfielders linking up in a tica-taca style, is understandable, but as West Ham proved on Sunday, there’s no guarantee of its success against the ever-disciplined, ten-man defensive displays you often get in the Premier League.
But if not Soldado, then who? Who could Tottenham have brought in instead during the summer to lead the line for them this season and provide that vital prolificness in front of goal to push them a step closer to Champions League qualification? With the vast majority of Europe’s top strikers jumping ship early in the transfer window, by the time Daniel Levy had secured his £26million purchase of Soldado, other options were few and far between.
But Christian Benteke was undoubtedly the leading alternative, having made himself available to other Premier League clubs in the summer after handing in a transfer request at Villa Park, and in my humble opinion, the Aston Villa forward would have made a far better signing than Tottenham’s £27million man.
The 6 foot 3 Belgian would have been the perfect fit for Spurs’ counter-attacking brand of football, whilst he’s already shaken off claims of being a one-season wonder by netting four times in five appearances so far this year, bringing his Premier League total to 23 goals in 39 games.
Perhaps most importantly however, the 22 year-old, who is not only younger than Soldado but could have arrived at White Hart Lane for considerably less, is a big game player, recording a brace against Arsenal and netting against Chelsea in the first two weeks of the season, which could have been a vital influence in Tottenham’s Champions League hopes this year.
Even if Benteke didn’t tickle AVB’s fancy, Manchester United’s Javier Hernandez was reportedly a £15million option for Spurs, Swansea’s Michu would be an excellent fit for Tottenham’s new, more technical style, and Loic Remy was always available to the highest bidder following QPR’s relegation.
That’s not to say Roberto Soldado can’t or won’t be a success at White Hart Lane – his record in La Liga alone is enough to suggest he can easily achieve double figures this season if he begins to find his form. But considering the Lilywhites broke their record transfer fee and splashed out a whopping £26million on the Spain striker, a quarter of their total summer spend, has he actually significantly improved the Tottenham first team to a justifiable level? For a chairman of Daniel Levy’s transfer-saviness, you get the feeling there must have been better-fitting, cheaper and younger alternatives available to the Lilywhites over the summer.
Was Soldado the right choice for Spurs?