It’s a conundrum that has Tottenham Hotspur head coach Andre Villas-Boas thinking, but he needs to know that the modern lone centre-forward can offer the team a whole much more than just goals. He needs to be able to consistently offer himself as an outlet higher up the pitch, hold up play and know when to unselfishly distribute the ball. He needs to have the nous to know when it’s appropriate to shoot and when it isn’t.
He needs to be able to dribble, win high balls and outsmart defenders. He has to be able to judge when it’s right to track back and defend, and help clear opposition set-plays. He needs to be able to put in a man of the match performance without even having scored a goal. Emmanuel Adebayor has proved time and time again that he is capable of being that forward. Jermain Defoe hasn’t.
Due to an injury to Adebayor, Defoe has enjoyed a run in the Spurs side that seen him slowly evolve his game. He’s tried to adopt his play to involve some intelligence, but in vital moments in games too close for comfort, his knack of choosing the neanderthal approach to football has taken over.
When he finds himself on the edge of the box, a pass can open up that Ray Charles would be screaming for him to play, but he opts to shoot instead. Bafflingly though, his shoot on sight policy often see’s him praised, after all, every good striker has to have ‘a selfish side’ to his play.
However, for the first time in his career away at Old Trafford, Defoe played the lone forward role with some aplomb. His movement during Gareth Bale’s goal was textbook; a darting diagonal run that split the centre-backs created the space for Bale to charge in to. For our third, his close control and pace saw him skip past Rio Ferdinand, and he showed he possessed sophisticated vision as he played an inch perfect reverse pass through to Bale, before Dempsey tapped in.
A week later though against a distinctly average Aston Villa side, he was back up to his old deeply frustrating tricks, ruining clear cut chances rather than creating them. How can we rely on a centre-forward whose performances are about as consistent as the most violent bouts of diarrhoea?
The way I see it, Defoe is the Scrappy-Doo to Adebayor’s Scooby. Every time I see Jermain turn and snatch a shot wide I can imagine the little cartoon mutt putting his dukes up, screaming “let me at ‘em, let me at ‘em” and so on. In the same way that Villas-Boas has brought in Lloris and benched Friedel for the good of the side, it’s time to do the same with Adebayor, especially with Chelsea’s Premier League game fast approaching. They have a quick, athletic and physically tall side, especially in defense.
The combination of David Luiz and Gary Cahill will make easy work of brushing Defoe to one-side, and unlike Manchester United away; this isn’t a game we can win down the centre of the field. We’ll need Adebayor to lead the front line, bringing Bale and Aaron Lennon in to play as often as possible, testing their full-backs, and trying to dominate possession.
What Adebayor offers to the side isn’t just prevalent when we play the better sides in the league either. When we play teams who tend to perk the proverbial bus against us, we won’t win by trying to get in to an arm-wrestle of a game against them, we need to be able to adopt a more pragmatic approach. For example, while playing with Defoe as the lone striker, the attacking midfielder behind him is losing effectiveness going forward.
Both Gylfi Sigurdsson and Clint Dempsey have the ability to go beyond the last man, join in with intelligent interplay in and around the box and create chances for themselves if given the ball, something Rafael van der Vaart, during his time at Spurs, fed from playing with Adebayor to some effect. However, when Jermain’s much lauded selfishness takes over and he hits 20 yard after 20 yard drive, any potential for a multiple man attack get’s dashed.
Slowly but surely, I’m more than confident we’ll see Villas-Boas reintroduce Adebayor in to the starting XI. He’s proven that he’s more than capable of choosing a winning side and making difficult decisions. From the start of the season, we’ve needed to improve upon Brad Friedel, Jake Livermore, William Gallas and Defoe, and one-by-one he’s doing so.
By the time Younes Kaboul regains full fitness, the obvious decision will be to relegate Gallas to the bench, Kaboul taking back his place in defense, and the armband too. We’ve already shown that we’re going to commit strong teams to every competition this season, and with the distinct possibility of having to compete on four separate fronts after Christmas, every player is still likely to get his chance.
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