November 10, 2012

The case for dropping Defoe

It would be crazy to drop a player who has just scored a hat trick in his last game; only a lunatic would do that, surely? That is absolutely what I would do for Sunday’s game against Manchester City.

Much has been made of Andre Villas-Boas’ controversial substitution in last Saturday’s defeat to Wigan – when Emmanuel Adebayor replaced Jermaine Defoe on 57 minutes, as Spurs went in search of a goal. National newspapers, blogs, and Twitter exploded, owing to a significant section of the home crowd booing the change; presumably not booing the fact that Adebayor was coming on, but the fact that we were not taking off a midfield player and reverting to 4-4-2.

Personally I put this down to football fans over-simplifying the situation. Surely if you have two strikers rather than one you have double the chance of scoring, right? Clearly, if you look deeper at the issue, that is not the case.

First, taking the team shapes as as a way to explain the change; Wigan lined up in a 3-4-3 formation, which frequently became a 3-6-1 when they were defending. To have taken off a midfield player would have meant leaving ourselves totally outnumbered in a midfield battle that we were already losing (Huddlestone, Sigurdsson and Dempsey as a trio lacked the intensity and mobility that AVB wants in a pressing midfield combo), meaning we would have been open to counter; or worse, would have effectively handed Wigan control of the match and been forced to play on the counter ourselves.

Secondly, taking the personnel; prior to the Wigan game, Defoe had one goal in his last six starts, so it could be argued that he was already lucky to be starting with Adebayor fit again, especially as he offers so little when he doesn’t score. He had touched the ball eleven times in the match. His disinterest in linking play has always been apparent, but rarely more so than on Saturday. Dempsey was also having a poor game, but he at least attempted to receive the ball or make himself an option occasionally.

Essentially, it came down to two questions:

1. Do you believe we were creating chances but not finishing them? Answer: leave Defoe on.
2. Do you believe we weren’t creating chances (or finishing them)? Answer: take Defoe off.

I lean very much towards option two, and felt that Defoe impeded our chance creation with his lack of engagement in approach play. Leaving Defoe on would have meant one less player to pass to when trying to build play from the back, when we were already struggling for options. Presumably Andre Villas-Boas felt the same way.

As an aside, after he was withdrawn (rightly or wrongly), Defoe trudged off the pitch as slowly as he could, presumably to make a point (against a man who had previously shown nothing but faith in him), when we were in a major hurry to try to equalise. To make matters worse, he then went straight down the tunnel, not worried about supporting his teammates for the rest of the match. I would suggest that he was lucky to start on Thursday after this display of petulance.

Thursday was different for Defoe – albeit against significantly weaker opposition. We played a hybrid of 4-4-2 and 4-4-1-1, with Adebayor and Defoe taking turns in being the most advanced player. He still wasn’t generally involved in the match (he had 20 fewer touches than any other outfield player for us) but he got chances, and generally took them exceptionally well, scoring from three of his five efforts on goal with a nice range of finishes. Against lesser teams, we can afford to have one fewer man in midfield, and to play a player up front who is simply there to finish things off. Against Manchester City, in my opinion we simply can’t.

I personally think that anyone calling for a traditional 4-4-2 at the Etihad on Sunday, whether City are “there for the taking” or not, simply hasn’t watched enough of City in recent seasons. That formation would be playing into their hands – there is nothing they would like more than playing against a team who are a man light in midfield; they would, in my opinion, take the opportunity to dominate possession, play a pragmatic possession game, and grind out a result, despite not being at their best right now.

Instead, we should take a steadier approach. A three man midfield to combat theirs is essential, but with limited options we have difficult decisions to make. Huddlestone will definitely start. Sandro will also certainly start if fit and, if not, Livermore will likely come in (again, if fit) to add energy. The third midfield player will be one of Sigurdsson, Dempsey or Thursday’s little gem, Tom Carroll. I wrote for London24 last week about Dempsey and Sigurdsson – both are struggling for form and confidence – but crucially, neither will help us retain the ball. I would therefore start Carroll.

Lennon and Bale pick themselves, but crucially in a 4-3-3 they need to be high up the pitch. This leaves one forward, meaning we need to choose between Adebayor and Defoe; it’s a no-brainer for me. Adebayor as a lone front man has so much more going for him; he doesn’t just get goals (he, in fact, has a better scoring record in English football than Defoe), but also assists; he has the intelligence, awareness, and ability to bring others into play (in all areas of the pitch); he links brilliantly with Bale; he occupies defenders with clever movement out to the flanks, and creates space for others to profit from; and for those who like psychological side of football, he has a point to prove against his former employers.

Defoe might get us a goal if he plays 90 minutes and a chance falls his way. But for the remaining 89 minutes he will likely do very little, as he typically has done away to top four sides during his time at Spurs (this season’s Manchester United game aside, where I thought he was exceptionally good). We simply can’t afford a passenger in this game, and our best chance of getting a result comes from picking a team that will be compact, intelligent, and devastating on the counter. Defoe has pace, but he doesn’t have the ability to bring the ball down quickly and find Bale and Lennon with quick, intelligent passing, which is why Adebayor suits a counter-attacking side so well (the part he played in Defoe’s third goal on Thursday was incredible – so few players could have done what he did).

It remains to be seen how AVB will fashion the team on Sunday. If he goes with Defoe, as I’m sure the majority of fans expect, let’s hope he can put in a similar showing to that of the United game – i.e. dropping into the hole when necessary and working hard to close down opponents, as well as ensuring that he keeps the ball where possible.

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  • Anonymous says:

    Nice article Windy. Agree with the bulk of it. Team tomorrow for me: Lloris, Walker, Caulker, Dawson, JV, Sandro, THudd, Carroll/Sigurdsson*, Bale, Lennon, Ade.

    For me this is the obvious choice for a game like City away.

    Team I think we’ll play: Friedel, Walker, Gallas, Caulker, JV, Sandro, Hudd, Dempsey, Bale, Lennon, Defoe.

    *I keep thinking Sigurdsson must be on the verge of coming good – surely, and I worry about Carroll up against Y. Toure and Garcia.

  • hk_yid says:

    I disagree. Your question “Do you believe we weren’t creating chances (or finishing them)?” is a bit odd because if you’re not creating chances there can’t be any finishing. The answer to the question is to create chances. In my opinion Adebayor can stretch defences, hold up the ball and create chances better than Dempsey. Adebayor is better than Dempsey in the same role and Defoe is a better striker than Dempsey. Behind against a team like Wigan I would have taken off Dempsey.

    Nonetheless I think we should start with one or the other on Sunday. Don’t mind who.

    • Anonymous says:

      The question makes sense because if you’re not even creating chances, it doesn’t matter how good Defoe is, there’s nothing for him to finish.

    • hk_yid says:

      That’s exactly my point, and if anything that’s the reason the question doesn’t make sense. Why take off Defoe if we are not creating chances? He’s responsible more for taking chances than creating them.

    • Windy says:

      Why take Defoe off if we’re not creating chances? Because we were effectively playing with ten men – he wasn’t dropping deep to receive the ball, occupying defenders, stretching their defence with intelligent runs, working the channels, etc – he was totally ineffective.

      Adding an additional body who would get involved in our build-up play was the correct move IMO.

  • Steve says:

    interesting, I agree with starting ade sunday for the reasons mentioned, although I do believe we should have kept defoe on against wigan (agree with hk yid). with ade on the field we definately hold the ball better which will be essential against city. also the jury’s still out on carroll, not a game to ‘try him oput’.

    • Windy says:

      I know what you mean re: Carroll, but in the absence of any other midfielders that will pass and move, and try to dictate tempo, I think he has to play.

  • Anonymous says:

    Agreed on his track record Defoe is unlikely to score unless he miss hits it. Not likely to produce something special. He is power puff on the ball even against Malibor! Trouble is his temperment, if he does not play -hissy fit, strop, etc!

  • Dave says:

    Spot on. I have felt this for a while. I just feel that Defoe still gets pushed off the ball far to easily and still needs space when he gets the ball to control it and run. Others may disagree but I stand by that. Adebayor on the other hand has great control, pace and strength to hold off defenders as was aptly demonstrated as a reminder on Thursday. Not saying we should be doing a 4-4-2 but certainly don’t always fully understand those who booed AVB’s decision to bring Defoe off last weekend.

  • JJD says:

    Build a case to fit your usual slag off Defoe prejudice why don’t you? If he plays and scores a hat-trick at Citeh you will still want him dropped for Arse.

    • Anonymous says:

      If he plays against City and scores a hat-trick no one will want him dropped. But how likely is it? Look at his career record of hat-tricks. Look at his career record of scoring against top teams, particularly when it matters, that is first, or equalizers or winners, rather than adding the icing on a cake. Even against Maribor, he was poor until he scored the first goal, which owed a great deal to Bale, and even more to his marker falling over. He took his goal well, but if he had missed, it would have been atrocious. He continued to be uninvolved until his second, a well-taken goal, when, unusually he kept himself onside, after an astute pass from Carroll. It was his third which showed how he usually doesn’t play as part of the team. In the first half, Lennon and particularly Bale were rampaging down the wings and crossing on a regular basis, with Adebayor not quite getting on the end of those crosses, but Defoe nowhere to be seen. Suddenly he’s on a hat-trick, and a blisteringly fast counter-attack ends with him keeping up with play for the first time to put the finishing tough to a great move. The difference was that this was about him getting a hat-trick rather than being part of a winning team. I, for one, am more interested in my team playing well and winning, than a particular talented individual playing for his own benefit.

    • Windy says:

      Anonymous has said it all for me.

  • Chris says:

    Yes indeed – a horrible prejudice built around nothing but evidence from multiple games, game statistics, etc etc. No-one doubts that Defoe is a great finisher, it’s just that he is so often a complete passenger for the rest of the game. There are several implications to this, including meaning we have no holdup play, the rest of the team has to work extra hard the whole time, no forward options means our midfield players end up playing sideways which causes the fans to get on _their_ backs, our wingers are told not to put in crosses as Defoe won’t win them, which causes our fans to get on _their_ backs.

  • Anonymous says:

    You’re ignoring two things in this article whilst burying it in stats. 1) We did not look any more likely to score after the sub, and did not score, therefore it backfired 2) Defoe made little impact on the game because he was isolated up front on his own. Did you notice Ade’s contribution to the third goal against Maribor? Even if there is a case to start one up against City, there is not when we are at home, least of all losing with 20 mins to go. Dempdey is not a striker.

    • Windy says:

      1. I think we were more of a threat, personally, albeit Adebayor wasn’t great when he came on.
      2. Indeed, totally isolated. That is partly the fault of his team mates, and partly his own fault. I don’t remember ever seeing Adebayor appear so isolated when leading the line alone – do you?

  • Anonymous says:

    Great analysis Windy.

    At his best…..Defoe was exceptional at Old Trafford. By making unpredictable runs behind the full backs he pulled United apart. I also recall a similar performance at home v A*****l in 2010 when he put Bale through with a great reverse-ball to score from wide-left.

    On both occasions, although he didn’t score, others did, we outscored decent opposition and took home the all-important 3 points…..but……for some reason in other games he can be VERY predictable to defend against…either static movement (caught offside) or telegraphing a right foot shot (blocked).

    Defoe will always get his fair share of goals but in the modern-day Premier League, Spurs are less likely to keep posession, clean sheets and subsequently 3 points if Defoe continues to lead the line predictably (like Michael Owen discovered)…therefore meaning managers will pick someone else to lead the line. It is also worth noting that none of the so-called top 4 clubs have ever made a serious bid for him.

    I hope JD can recognise this as he gets older. He is a great finisher and capable of great things in the future.

  • D Doc says:

    ADE against city Defoecould be of more use coming off the bench when legs start to tire
    Thurs had some good signs, for starters if you put the ball into box early & often your more likely to score goals rather than passing aimlessly backwards & sideways slowly b progressive on ball& set a tempo, a throw in early taken by defoe against maribor summed that up for me instead of leaving it for walker he was nearest player got it, took it, kept us on the front foot & didn’t let defense settle
    If we can do something in one pass then do it hudd & Carroll were example of this. I thought Dawson & verth worked well as a unit & I’d keep them together for City Dawson done a lot of organising & talking with walker & verth we have been lacking that of late, as for verth I don’t get why anyone would have there best cb anywhere other than cb, I’d put caulker lb he’s a good left foot on him natural defensive reading of the game & would have no worries about him there considering city play with inverted widemen. I’d have naughton rb for this one he’s a very good crosser of the ball & we don’t really get the value of that with him on the left, with neither lennon or walker having crossing as there forte it makes sense to me to have someone who can put decent delivery into box from that side
    I’d have lloris in goal,The wings pick themselves Azza& bale, In cm I’d b torn between hudd & Carroll if it was been judged on the other night it would b young tom but with the need for having someone who can deliver set pieces I’d go with big Tom
    Sandro anchors but I’d also play walker in a midf3.There’s one thing Kyle can’t be accused of is a lack of commitment & he showed on Thursday his willingness to get in box evident on defoe 2nd goal he was in the box if shot was saved to pick up the rebound likewise on ADE missed chance. I just feel with Barry & Garcia not being the quickest plus yaya not being committed to tracking back it could b a plus to have someone who can keep up with bale & lennon on break. dempsey & livermore let us down against chelsea not following there nearest runner both been Mata & both costing us a goal, likewise sigg showed a lack of commitment in Greece to track the runner costing us a goal. Kyle is committed & if we don’t have someone willing to track the runs by yaya & nasri they will kill us it can’t all be left to sandro
    There’s something bothering me about us defending corners b4 last intern break we had a player on each post lennon being on one whoever idea it was to have lennon on post needs shooting by the way & I think it was walker on other, now that’s fine bar lennon being one but everyone else was back in box to & we had no get out ball everytime we cleared a corner it was coming back at us.
    Then first game back after internationals we start having no-one on posts &, if we had someone on far post the majority of goals from corners are scored into far post a Gk shouldn’t really b letting anything past him on near post. Against norwich LG cup if we had defender on far post the shot after deflection off verth gets cleared, v wigan Friedal palms ball away & it falls nicely for there player but it might not of had to if player on far post reads it & gets there first or manages to get a block it might not of been a goal
    Sunday here’s what I want to see specific roles for defending set pieces I’d like to see naughton told to be on far post, lennon to go out to corner taker the amount of times the corner taker gets a second delivery from a clearance is unbelievable sandro & walker zonal on edge of box Bale as a get out ball upfront no team would go 1-on-1 with him if he was left up. Dawson caulker ADE verth& hudd man2man in box & if any player fails to do or b where he’s meant to then they should b made wear a bib with a Big Dick on it at training

  • Anonymous says:

    I was at the game on Thursday and managed to have a quick chat with Jason Burt, who said that people need to be patient. Not managing to attend many games, I wanted to gauge people’s feelings about Defoe. I think people found me negative, but he’s 29 and still manages to be offside often. When SAF wanted to spend £25 million he didn’t come for Defoe and it is worth noting that no big team has. I couldn’t be too negative as he did score three and I think I was sitting under the Defoe family box. He has dislayed greater awareness of the rest of the team, but his petulance in the Wigan game was disgraceful; I think Dempsey’s feelings towards him are shown by his praise for Ade as an unselfish player. Finally, as I was leaving the stands I heard a hoping that we play 4-4-2 against MC: I told her that if we do that we will get murdered.
    Sweetsman

  • Anonymous says:

    Do you have nothing better to do than constantly slate Defoe? This is getting boring now, perhaps move onto another subject for once

  • mark brack says:

    ||||||||||||||||||||||Can we have a comment from 2013 ?

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