One of Berbatov’s greatest assets, oft-overlooked due to his startling skill on the deck, was his ability to win headers, or to hold the ball up on his chest before bringing it down and finding a Spurs man. Since he left at the start of last season, we’ve not had a striker capable of doing this.
In some ways that was probably a good thing, encouraging us to play more to feet, and through our midfield. However, in certain games you need to be able to take a direct route, and of course, with centre backs as keen to find the front man with long passes as Dawson and Woodgate clearly are, it was only a matter of time before Harry identified a target man as a necessary purchase.
Keane/Defoe/Pavlycuhenko/Bent is not a bad selection of strikers on the face of it. Indeed, I’d suggest that most teams outside of the top 5 (& Man City) would be delighted to have those four. But when you look deeper, it’s an unbalanced collection of players. None are good at consistently winning headers with their back to goal. In fact, none like to play with their back to goal full stop. None have the strength to rattle big, strong defenders (and nearly all PL teams have at least one of those). We already have two quite flimsy attacking players in Lennon and Modric, and with Keane/Defoe as the “second striker”, we clearly lack someone with some strength and presence to help dominate teams. Jones would have been useful in this respect, but he was ludicrously overpriced at £67m or whatever we were quoted.
It’s also important to remember that Defoe is not the same player in away matches, and that Keane had a poor run of form at the back end of last season, where many felt he was dropping too deep and slowing the game down unnecessarily.
Bent is a goal scorer, there’s no doubt about that, but he has little else to his game. If he doesn’t score in a match, he often has a negative impact; he doesn’t hold the ball up or pass well, he doesn’t contribute defensively, he doesn’t win many headers despite being over 6’, and he doesn’t “get at” defenders at all – I imagine as a defender you’d feel more tired having played against Paul Dickov than Darren Bent, despite the obvious height and strength advantage. Normally you’d expect a striker who doesn’t have a great first touch to compensate with aggression and physicality, but Bent has neither.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Pavlyuchenko has more to offer than he has currently shown, and whilst we certainly can’t rely on him at present, I think it’s worth nothing that a lot of Bent’s goals last season were tap-ins/rebounds – as Pavlyuchenko is a similar “predatory” striker, I think we could expect him to score a lot of the goals that we’d previously have expected Bent to score. Whether he’ll get the run of games that he so clearly needs is another matter…
I am all for keeping a consistent squad, but it’s clear that Bent will leave in search of guaranteed first team football and, therefore, it’s a good opportunity to replace him with a striker that can bring skills to the table that we lack. Whilst we will undoubtedly lose goals from Bent, what we’ll gain from Crouch is goals from other areas of the team – he has good awareness of what is going on around him (he gets a good view of the pitch from up there after all), and excels at bringing others into the game. In fairness to him, his scoring record in recent seasons is not too shabby either.
Whether or not we were ever/are in for Huntelaar is irrelevant to me – I’ve always seen him as a similar player to Bent (but obviously far superior). By that I mean that he is a natural goal scorer, but has little else in his all-round game. I don’t think he’d particularly improve us as a team although, like Bent, he is capable of scoring a hatful of goals.
In short (haha), Crouch is a good player with skills that we lack – the ability to hold the ball up with his back to defenders, and the vision and awareness to bring others into the game. He does score headers, but they are generally headers where he’s coming on to the ball, rather than out-muscling defenders. He is not as good in the air as one would expect (despite his obvious advantage) and not the type of player that is going to grit his teeth and win header after header against the likes of Terry/Vidic/Gallas/even Distin, and I still think a muscular, aggressive striker as an option would be beneficial. But small steps (groan) are preferable, and I’d rather that we now see how we go with these four, and think about making changes next summer if we can improve again.
For what it’s worth, most Spurs fans are talking about Crouch and Defoe – personally I think Keane will be a great partner for Crouch, and will come back strongly next season.