Expectations may have been lowered after Andre Villas-Boas's sacking but that is no reason for Spurs to rest on their laurels and hope Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor clickANALYSIS
By Jay Jaffa
Even by Tottenham’s standards this has been a turbulent campaign and we’re only just past the halfway point. Enormous upheaval over the summer saw the club’s talisman Gareth Bale depart for Real Madrid, while £100 million was spent in an attempt to compensate for the Welshman’s exit and build a stronger squad.
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Daniel Levy, the Spurs chairman, pulled the trigger after Liverpool mauled Villas-Boas’s team 5-0 in front of 36,000 fans and in came former technical director Tim Sherwood - the ex-Tottenham player and coach yet to gain the required badges to hold a top-flight managerial post.
Expectations for the season have plummeted. In August talk of the title didn’t seem outlandish, particularly given managerial changes at Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Everton and yet come December many were just thankful Spurs were scoring goals again.
First impressions of Sherwood’s style are hard to formulate given the small sample size of just five games, but he has fawned to the desire of both chairman and supporter by returning to the more adventurous, attacking style in fitting with the club ethos.
It wouldn’t be surprising to see a few players leave the north Londoners this January, especially in midfield, where the dressing room is close to bursting with box-to-box enforcers. Still, we are interested in what Franco Baldini, Levy and Sherwood may bring through the door this month.
If, as seems likely, Sherwood persists with two strikers, Tottenham need to be active in January. Jermain Defoe is moving to Toronto (albeit on February 28) leaving Spurs suddenly looking short up front.
Even if the pair avoid injury for the remainder of the campaign, there will be pressure on Adebayor and Soldado to score the goals needed to maintain a charge at the top four - something the Spaniard in particular has not achieved.
Spurs are scoring more goals under Sherwood - finding the net in every game bar the 2-0 loss at Arsenal - at a rate of 1.66 goals per game (an increase on Andre Villas-Boas’s record of 1.16, if you exclude Europa League games - a tournament Sherwood has yet to compete in).
Goals are seemingly not a problem in his more adventurous set-up, yet the form of Soldado comes increasingly under the magnifying glass. The Spaniard, signed for £26 million in the summer, may have found the net 10 times in his 22 games for the club, but five of those were in Europe and only two of the five in the Premier League have come from open play.
As an aside, in the top 10 of the Premier League only Hull have scored fewer goals than Spurs’ haul of 25 in 20 games.
Soldado cannot complain he is not getting minutes and appears to be developing an understanding with Adebayor - shown recently by his pinpoint cross to the Togolese frontman away at Southampton - but his own goalscoring prowess has deserted him.
One problem Spurs have endured this campaign is a league-low number of through balls played per game (1). In comparison, the current top four of Liverpool (6), Manchester City (4), Arsenal (4) and Chelsea (2) all rank higher.
The problem is this can be tuned to point out a number of flaws in the Tottenham first-team. Is it a lack of creativity in midfield? Do Spurs continually face teams happy to camp on the edge of their box? Or is the movement of Soldado and Adebayor too static?
Match of the Day looked at Soldado’s movement (or lack of) in Villa-Boas’s most trying time and deduced that the former Valencia man just doesn’t put the effort in to run behind defences. That is likely an aspect of why the goals are yet to flow. But he has had chances, he just keeps missing them.
Rather unexpectedly, the 28-year-old has been one of the club’s most creative outlets, conjuring 23 chances in his 18 top-flight matches, while Adebayor has weighed in with eight key passes in his five matches.
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It is a myth that January is a difficult time to find players who will improve the squad but it is more a case of Tottenham identifying a readily-available option who will choose White Hart Lane over their club’s more established rivals.
There is the possibility that Harry Kane, one of Sherwood’s young charges in his technical director role, is handed increased responsibility at least until the end of the season.
There is, however, little evidence to suggest that Kane will become an able deputy having scored just twice since making his debut for the club in 2011. The 20-year-old has long been touted for a prominent role in the first-team squad at Tottenham, owing to a phenomenal track record for the club’s youth teams as well as goalscoring spells at Leyton Orient and Millwall. Thus far though, the step up to regular Premier League action has proved a hurdle.
So perhaps it is just a case of levelling the argument down to simple stats. Adebayor’s chance conversion percentage is remarkably high at 37.5% but taken from a tiny sample of five matches. Soldado’s (13.5%) on the other hand is lightyears behind his peers.
Sergio Aguero (25.5%), Alvaro Negredo (23.5%), Luis Suarez (27%) and Daniel Sturridge (25%), Romelu Lukaku (23.7%) and Robin van Persie (26.9%) are all streets ahead, leaving just Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud (16.7%) and Chelsea’s Fernando Torres (15.8%) and Samuel Eto’o (13.6%) in Soldado’s bracket - by no coincidence two clubs also in need of a striker.
Expectations may have been lowered but Sherwood will have to decide whether he can keep faith with Soldado and hope he rediscovers the instinct that saw him net 29 in 44 for Valencia last season, pray that his two main strikers remain injury-free and keep the truculent Adebayor onside as Spurs chase that coveted top-four position.
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