By Jay Jaffa
What does £26 million buy you these days?
Andre Villas-Boas has the answer but he’s not fielding the sort of questions he must have hoped Roberto Soldado’s arrival would generate. As much an unfortunate biproduct of Tottenham’s troubles in the final third as he is a part of the problem, the Spaniard is struggling to set pulses racing in north London and calls for him to be benched are gathering weight.
The Spaniard has netted just four league goals and, worryingly, just the once from open play - a statistic that fosters concern and apathy in equal measure but one currently peddled to try and cast Soldado as the latest expensive flop.
The truth is he is struggling to make a significant impact. Look around the league and the likes of Alvaro Negredo and Michu show how it can be done.
|33/1||Roberto Soldado is 33/1 with William Hill to finish top scorer in the Premier League this season|
Statistically speaking, Soldado has had a mixed start. Four goals and two assists in his first 10 Premier League games is not to be sniffed at, particularly for a striker making his first move away from home soil but his contribution in high profile matches has left a lot to be desired.
The former Valencia man netted twice in Georgia as Spurs trounced Dinamo Tblisi 5-0 in the first leg of their Europa League qualifier back in August but Defoe has become the go-to forward in Tottenham’s cup matches. He may have played just 167 minutes in the league but the 31-year-old can already boast eight goals in six cup games.
However, simply swapping the strikers is too basic and overlooks years of evidence to the contrary, as well as contradicting the style Andre Villas-Boas is trying to implement at White Hart Lane.
On a base level, the problem Spurs have is scoring the chances they create. Their five per cent conversion percentage is on a par with Norwich domestically speaking, despite mustering 180 shots at goal in their 10 league fixtures. Soldado’s conversion rate stands at 23.5%, while Defoe has yet to score from his 10 shots.
But that is too simplistic - shots alone do not factor the ease of the chance itself and that is largely where Tottenham’s goalscoring problems stem from. Take Sunday’s drab 0-0 draw with Everton and the previous week’s narrow 1-0 win over Hull as examples. Can you remember a clear cut chance?
On both occasions, Villas-Boas named the same starting XI and, were it not for a debatable penalty, the result would have been identical.
Spurs are virtually unrecognisable to the Harry Redknapp years - and I’m not talking personnel. The build-up is patient, slow even. They are cautious and the line-up, always including two midfielders sitting, reflects that. Defensively, Tottenham have never looked so solid - 13 clean sheets in 17 is unchartered territory for a traditionally porous side - but with just nine goals in 10 league games, it is coming at a cost.
|DEFOE V SOLDADO
Furthermore, watch a highlights reel of his goals in La Liga and you’ll notice many are serviced from wide positions.
With an insistence on inverted wingers, an injured Danny Rose and Kyle Walker’s inconsistent final ball, Soldado rarely gets a sniff of goal - but he is also reluctant to run in behind defences, partly shown by being flagged offside just five times this season.
At the moment, Tottenham are not playing to his strengths but that’s not to say Soldado won’t adapt. He may be 28 and no spring chicken but elements of his game suggest he is intelligent enough to change.
Some will say Defoe has tried and failed to adapt his game but that is unfair on the forward. He may average 4.9 passes per game (compared to Soldado's average of 21) and his goals tend to come from trademark snapshots but he has worked on his hold up play - though, unfortunately, his size renders any improvement relatively minute.
The problem with Defoe is that he is a pure poacher, not one able to combine with his supporting cast. As mentioned Soldado has threatened to do this on occasion, while a fully fit and interested Emmanuel Adebayor remains Villas-Boas' best option for that role.
What Defoe gives you is the most direct striker in the league. He rarely passes in his cameos, while his starts rarely offer better returns. He remains a very useful option from the bench but has consistently underwhelmed in the starts he has been afforded - particularly against elite opposition.
Soldado may be encountering teething problems but it is too soon to take the Lamela approach and ease him out of the team until the time is right. It is also far too soon to write him off as a £26m flop - just look down the road at the formidable Olivier Giroud. First seasons are tough.
Turning to Defoe when the goals dry up is a well-trodden path and one that, in his nine years at the club, has never seen him secure the role of key striker. It won't change now, so have patience with Soldado.
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