Rewind your memory to the midst of the transfer window and most observers, probably including the freshly appointed André Villas-Boas, felt that Spurs needed to sign two new strikers. It was almost certain Emmanuel Adebayor would be joining and there were rumours spreading like wildfire as to which other big money striker would accompany him. The general consensus was, to put it simply, that Jermain Defoe would not be capable of playing the required role in the new manager’s system.
Yet to his credit, Defoe has proved that he has an important place in this Tottenham squad. Provided the opportunity initially by the delay in finalising the deal for Adebayor and then by his subsequent fitness problems, Defoe has started every league game to date. With four goals and two assists in his seven appearances, he has made such a good start to the season that a debate has arisen as to whether Adebayor should replace him once fit.
However, that may be the wrong way to look at the selection choice. In Defoe and Adebayor the manager has an interesting combination available to him, not necessarily as a partnership as it’s unlikely that he will use both together from the start, but as alternatives. Villas-Boas has already displayed flexibility in his tactical setup this year and the two forwards offer him another chance to exercise this.
As a duo they complement eachother by being so very different. Their respective strengths lie in the weakness of the other, giving Villas-Boas two very contrasting alternatives depending on how he wishes to set up against a particularly opponent.
Defoe is a typical striker, in the mould of the prolific ones of the Nineties. In a very similar style to the player he idolised growing up, Arsenal’s Ian Wright, he is the very definition of a clinical goal scorer. He seems to play mainly on instinct, with his movements focused on creating opportunities to have a shot at goal and little regard for being involved in general play.
Conversely, Adebayor is an entirely different beast. He offers much more of a presence in the attacking third through his strength and enhanced technical ability. And whilst he can lack that killer instinct which Defoe has, his overall impact on the game is far more rounded. He will still score goals but more importantly the Togolese forward provides an attacking platform to play through, allowing his side to play with a more patient approach and begin attacks further up the pitch.
The home victory against Aston Villa exhibited perfectly the two choices available. Defoe was heavily involved in the first goal – it was his scuffed yet instinctive shot that rebounded off Steven Caulker – but did little else, which contributed to Spurs’ inability to really put the away side under constant pressure. When Adebayor replaced him after 68 minutes, the nature of Tottenham’s attacking play altered and they produced their best spell of football in the game.
In his 68 minutes, Defoe attempted just 11 passes and completed only seven of these, two of which were less than 5 yards in the centre circle. In less than half the time, Adebayor influenced the game significantly more, completing 21 of 24 attempted passes. Although the passes were often directed backwards, this is a result of his ability to play with his back to goal and bring teammates into play, rather than anything negative. He provided the aforementioned attacking platform for others to play off and as a result improved the side’s ability to test the Villa defence.
The comparison between the two in the areas that they tend to receive passes is also interesting. As you would expect, Defoe rarely strays from the central third of the pitch as he is uninterested in moving too far away from the goal. Subsequently, defenders have to concern themselves with his sharp and sudden movements in and around the penalty area.
Conversely, Adebayor is willing to drift into the channels and receives a lot of his passes in wider areas as a result. He thus provides defenders with a different problem altogether as he can be harder to isolate and pick up, while his movement is also conducive to creating a more fluid attacking unit as a whole. It is likely that both Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson will enjoy playing with Adebayor more, as he’ll create dangerous space for them to dart into.
With Defoe starting, Spurs have often looked like more of a counter-attacking side this season, which may help explain the contrast between their excellent victory at Old Trafford and the frustrating home draws with Norwich and West Bromwich Albion. With the introduction of Adebayor against Aston Villa, Tottenham looked like a team capable of putting the opposition under sustained pressure with an improved ability to retain the ball and a more fluid approach.
And therein lays the option that this striking combination provides Villas-Boas. Should he wish to adopt a more reactive, counter-attacking style then Defoe is his best option. Or alternatively, should he want to dominate a game and test the opposition more frequently then Adebayor fits the bill.