By Ewan Roberts
From perennial loanee to England's next great hope, the past two months have seen Andros Townsend's reputation rise at a pace almost as frighteningly rapid as he is. Singled out by Germany boss Joachim Low as a “dynamic” threat before Tuesday night's encounter at Wembley, the 22-year-old was, yet again, the brightest player for the home side, reinforcing his status as one of the country's most dangerous players.
The Tottenham academy product is almost uniquely direct, driving forward with a rare and absorbing fearlessness – his 55 successful dribbles is a division high – while his every touch is accompanied by the collective thwacking of 36,000 seats flipping back as the White Hart Lane crowd, otherwise starved of tantalising football this season, rise to their feet in feverish excitement and expectation.
Yet, for all his intent and raw energy, Townsend has just one goal – which was intended as a cross – and no assists in the Premier League this season. His growing repute, particularly on the international stage, has added further growl to a bark that is rather more fearsome than the bite, and he has become worryingly adept at looking like a threat without ever actually being one.
|FLATTERING TO DECEIVE
|TOWNSEND'S LEAGUE SEASON SO FAR
AVERAGE SHOT DISTANCE
Astonishingly, 41 of those efforts have been taken from outside the box (or 91 per cent, way above Spurs' average of 56% which is already significantly higher than other top-four rivals), 15 have been blocked (which is another league high), just 33% have been on target, and he boasts a head-scratching average shot distance of 26 yards.
While the best players make the right decisions most often, Townsend, acutely aware of the need to score goals and make himself “undroppable”, routinely and frustratingly takes the wrong option. Better placed team-mates are ignored in favour of hopeful shots from range that rarely trouble the goalkeeper, assuming they even beat the first man. If his shooting stats merely hint at a player seeking individual accolades, his conversion rate of just 2.2% (a league low for any player who has netted this year) undoubtedly confirms him as a singularly wasteful player.
Though he has failed to record an assist in 26 of his 27 Premier League career appearances, Townsend has created 19 chances for his team-mates this term, the most of any Spurs player – even if his only tangible contribution remains the penalty he won against Swansea. Somewhat symptomatic of the problems Spurs face on a wider scale, only four of those 19 chances have been inside the box, and only three have been clear-cut.
Further to that, Townsend has created just two chances for the much-maligned Roberto Soldado (while attempting 73% more shots), yet the Spaniard has created seven chances for Townsend and provided an assist.
|SHOOT ON SIGHT
|THE PREMIER LEAGUE'S TOP SHOOTERS
|ANDROS TOWNSEND||45||4.5PG||1 GOAL|
|OLIVIER GIROUD||40||3.6PG||5 GLS|
|SERGIO AGUERO||37||3.7PG||8 GLS|
|LUIS SUAREZ||36||6 PG||8 GLS|
At the Mestalla, Soldado created a goalscoring opportunity every 81 minutes, at Spurs he has done so every 51 minutes (while averaging fewer shots now too). Andre Villas-Boas spoke of needing a player with more predatory instincts prior to Soldado's signing, yet the 28-year-old's poaching skills are being hampered by the demands placed on him to link play and facilitate the players that ought to be supplying him.
It's a curious reversal of roles, and a scandalous misuse of talent – imagine if Chris Tucker had been cast as the martial arts master and by-the-book Hong Kong detective in Rush Hour opposite Jackie Chan's fast-talking, wise-cracking Los Angeles cop; Townsend is essentially asking Soldado to speak Cantonese.
But Townsend is not the only player to frustrate this season, or fail to link up with Soldado. Icelander Gylfi Sigurdsson is often just as disruptive to his Spurs team-mates, and specifically the side's grounded Spanish focal point, as his country's ash cloud was to the rest of Europe.
|25/1||Andros Townsend is 25/1 with BetVictor to win the PFA Player of the Year award|
Inverted wingers aren't inherently a problem, especially with the pace of Kyle Walker and, when fit, Danny Rose overlapping from deep, but having two largely self-serving players in the key positions to supply Soldado is an issue. In fact, Walker has created more chances for the Spaniard than any other Spurs player (with five), while the right-back and fellow full-back Rose, as a duo, have created a chance for the £26 million frontman every 189 minutes.
Townsend and Sigurdsson, meanwhile, have done so only every 471 minutes. Against Newcastle, a match which saw Tim Krul make 14 saves as Spurs peppered the Dutchman's goal, the two wingers failed to play a single successful pass to Soldado.
There are certainly alternatives to Townsend for Villas-Boas to think about exploring. Aaron Lennon led the club's assists charts with seven last season, and brings both natural width and the once uncapitalised cut-backs that Soldado would surely devour. Meanwhile, record-signing Erik Lamela, though less vivacious and gung-ho than Townsend, offers greater cunning and vision for the rest of the Spurs side to play off.
Townsend, bright though he may be, needs to find greater efficiency and clinicalness. At present he is a top-shelf, weapons-grade firework with an inaudible bang, an armoured S.W.A.T van with only a PCSO inside ready to write up a fixed penalty notice. He needs to do more without doing too much, and if he cannot convert his exuberance and direct running into something more concrete, then Tottenham simply cannot afford to carry him any longer.
*All stats used from Opta
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