By Jay Jaffa
What does £26 million (€31m) 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 by-product 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 club's 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 are showing how it should be done.
Rather than help Soldado blossom, which may take months, the answer for many is Jermain Defoe, a permanent fixture at White Hart Lane in the past 10 years, though rarely a first-choice starter. If it is a goalscorer you need, there aren’t many strikers in England more synonymous with the word - however right or wrong that label may be.
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 strikers is too basic a solution, as well as contradicting the style 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 not in terms of 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.
For all the money Tottenham spent in the summer, the only genuine playmaker to arrive was Christian Eriksen from Ajax and it has left Soldado incredibly isolated up front. He’s a poacher, there’s no doubt about that, but he has shown glimpses of quality link-up play in and around the box - the assist for Gylfi Sigurdsson’s opener against Norwich a prime example.
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 flop - just look down the road at the formidable Olivier Giroud. First season's 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 Spurs should have patience with Soldado.
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