Tottenham have enjoyed a decent start to their Premier League campaign under new boss Andre Villas-Boas, taking eight points from their first games to sit in eighth in the table. One of the major plus points of this start has been the form of striker Jermain Defoe, who appears to have adapted brilliantly to his new role as a lone front-man. This in turn has cast a shadow over Emmanuel Adebayor’s starting place in the side, but is there a way for both of them to co-exist?
The 28-year-old Togolese front-man was superb last season at White Hart Lane, finishing the term with 17 league goals and 12 assists and it should have been a lot more given his sometimes profligate ways in front of goal, Nevertheless, he was a fabulous focal point to their attack, holding the play up well, bringing the best out of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon out wide and ensuring that the side were an extremely dangerous side to play.
Defoe’s start to the new season, though, which has seen him strike four league goals in their opening five games has really caught the eye. He can still be wasteful, with the game against Reading serving as a prime example – his movement throughout was nothing short of brilliant and he managed to create space for himself easily against a shaky defence and despite a marvellous solo goal, it’s also worth remembering that he missed at least three other gilt-edged chances that game despite finishing with a double.
Nobody in their right mind felt that Defoe was tailor-made for Villas-Boas’ system and in a lot of way, he still isn’t, he struggles to hold the ball up and he can go missing for spells, but he’s a very good finisher when in this kind of form and he thrives on the sort of service that both Bale and Lennon provide, particularly against lesser opposition.
However, whenever the side’s two wingers manage to beat their full-back on the outside and arrow in a low cross, Defoe is often caught on his heels and it’s the sort of run that they’re used to Adebayor making. They may have scored eight goals in the league so far this season, but with the sheer volume of chances that they’ve created, it should have been many more and they were scintillating in the second half against QPR in particular.
A noticeable aspect of the club’s lacklustre first half performance against the Hoops’ was how much they lacked a cutting edge up top, failing to establish a platform in midfield. This all changed in the second half after a tactical substitution by Villas-Boas, as he compensated for his initial mistakes on what was an unbalanced starting line-up.
This saw the ineffectual and quite frankly awful Gylfi Sigurdsson hauled off, Bale restored to the left wing and Clint Dempsey moved inside behind Defoe, with Steven Caulker coming in at the heart of the back four, with Jan Vertonghen shifting to left-back. The result was an excellent second half performance from the entire side, with Bale and Vertonghen a constant threat down the left flank and Dempsey coming into the game more and more through the middle.
Liverpool were linked with a move for Dempsey all summer but they were pipped to his signature by a late move by Tottenham on transfer deadline day. Moreover, I always insisted that Dempsey was not ideally suited to playing in a 4-3-3 formation, given that he was too slow to play on the wing and would narrow the midfield and played more as a conventional forward last term than midfielder for Fulham.
While he is certainly a key squad player and he did well against Lazio in their Europa League clash mid-week, perhaps seeing Adebayor given the nod ahead of the American would see the side become even more of a goal threat. Defoe’s movement could see him drop deeper behind the Togolese striker and be a success, while they’d still retain the physical option of the former Manchester City man as the spearhead to their attack.
Sigurdsson has started life slowly so far at White Hart Lane and unless he’s scoring, he doesn’t especially contribute a whole lot else to their attacking play and his passing can be both ponderous and wayward. Dempsey is the natural choice to fill the role instead given his successes at Craven Cottage last year and they would be mad to drop Defoe while he is in such good form, but Adebayor is a class act and it was a surprise not to see him given a run-out against Lazio.
He appears to still be counting the cost of missing nearly the entirety of pre-season and while he may still be a bit rusty, he is only going to get better with games. His move from the Etihad was completed nearly two months later than initially expected and like Robin van Persie at Manchester United, he will inevitably be a bit off the pace as a result.
Tottenham may have threatened during decent spells in certain game and the signing of Moussa Dembele already looks a masterstroke give what he can offer the team’s midfield with his surging forward runs and ability to beat a man in the middle of the park, but they have also flattered to deceive just as many times, drawing their opening two home games against Norwich and West Brom at the start of the season.
Defoe is on fire and is assured of a starting place at the moment, but with Villas-Boas showing a willingness to adjust his side if it isn’t doing well against QPR, bringing in Adebayor from the start is the next logical step in making the side an altogether more aesthetically-pleasing and dangerous outfit.
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