Harry Redknapp’s apparent selection headache last week has certainly raised a key argument between Spurs; would you rather Jermain Defoe or Rafael Van der Vaart in the starting XI?
Redknapp admitted he has to select one or the other to partner number one striker Emmanuel Adebayor at the moment following Van der Vaart’s comments that he doesn’t enjoy the defensive aspect of playing on the wing.
The Dutchman was selected to play in the position in last weekends North London derby and even though he scored, his inability to cover the opponents attacking left-back was more than apparent. It was his inability to track the marauding Alex Song that led to Arsenal’s equaliser and when he was replaced by Sandro on the hour mark, defensively, Spurs looked a whole lot more comfortable when Arsenal pressed forward.
Then again, Van der Vaart knows where the net is, his goalscoring record since last summers move from Real Madrid proves it. But, is it really worth altering Spurs’ game to accommodate the Dutch international? Remember, one player doesn’t make a team and he may have made the desired impact following his arrival, finishing the season with 12 league goals, but the strikers suffered without a partner besides them.
However, with Adebayor, Van der Vaart now has a player who knows how to play the lone-striker role, and to detrimental effect as well. Whereas Roman Pavlyuchenko, Peter Crouch and Defoe differently struggled up-front on their own, the Togolese hit-man knows the role better than the back of his hand. His knowledge of the front-line coupled with his excellent mental and physical ability should provide the perfect foil for Van der Vaart to thrive off the 27-year-old.
Outspokenness aside, Van set Vaart would be the man to get the nod ahead of the competition. Unfortunately, that competition comes in the form of a pint-sized forward who, on his day, is a real handful for any defence.
Defoe has been in better form than he was last season, granted a year that was hampered by injury. But, alongside Adebayor, the duo have developed an almost physic understanding with one another in little more than a month since the two were initially paired in the 2-0 win over Wolves.
Two goals in three starts for the England man has coincided with Adebayor’s arrival and it is no surprise that he is thriving with a strike partner who knows how A) play alongside another striker and B) knows where the net is. It has been rather surprising to see Adebayor drift off to the wings or further back to the midfield to pick up the ball but it is these actions that has allowed Defoe to flourish once more.
While the former Arsenal man does the dog-work behind or besides him, Defoe acts as the furthest player forward, feeding off the scraps that made him such a potent threat in the Champions League achieving season. His form suffered last year because when partnered with Van der Vaart, he was isolated up front, with Pavlyuchenko and Crouch, he was made to drop deeper than his Russian team-mate and former partner at Portsmouth and Spurs, respectively.
But, it remains to be seen which one of the two will start ahead of the other. Against Arsenal, Van der Vaart’s lack of tracking back almost cost us at times but he still scored. As for Defoe, he worked hard but just couldn’t forge a decent goal-scoring opportunity. Yet, against the Gunners, I, personally, felt the latter should have perhaps been sacrificed for the sake of Sandro, leaving Spurs playing a 4-2-3-1 which would have stifled the Arsenal midfield and could have perhaps seen Spurs achieve more than a 2-1 win, not that I’m complaining about the win.
So, here is my two cents; against the bigger, stronger teams, sacrifice Defoe, as much as pains me to say. Pack the midfield with Sandro and Scott Parker, leaving Luka Modric, Gareth Bale and Van see Vaart to creatively exert themselves. And against your Wigan’s, your QPR’s, your Swansea’s, unleash Defoe against an untried and, undoubtedly, nervous back four.
This conundrum could well prove to be one of Redknapp’s most challenging in his managerial history. He failed to handle the Modric situation well, here is hoping he has learnt from his mistakes and keeps both players happy without sacrificing the performances of the team.