Jermain Defoe or Rafa van der Vaart?

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“Yes, it does seem to be a problem. Rafa can’t run back and chase the full-back. Against the better teams it is a problem.

Rafa’s best position is in the middle, playing just behind the front man. The only problem is that Jermain Defoe plays there too and Jermain is playing very, very well at the moment.

So, I guess I have got a decision to make, haven’t I? I suppose it’s now between Rafa and Jermain over who plays in the team.

Rafa is a terrific footballer. He has great skill. But if you’re in the team and asked to do a job, really, you should just do it.”

There were Harry Redknapp’s comments this week in The Sun, after van der Vaart had questioned the logic of playing him on the right.

Of course football is a squad game, and players rarely play in every match anymore. It is also great to have these sorts of selections dilemmas – a player as good as Sandro would not be on many benches (he’d be in my starting XI nine times out of ten!), and Defoe would be a regular in the majority of Premier League teams.

Assuming that Adebayor is a mainstay in the side (and he certainly should be at the moment), Redknapp has two options when picking his strongest eleven – if he wants to play Defoe, he can play van der Vaart on the right, as against Arsenal. If he decides, as he seems to have in the comments above, that this not appropriate, he needs to choose between the two for the second striker role.

In this article I will compare van der Vaart and Defoe, but first I would like to look at van der Vaart’s performance against Arsenal.

1. Rafael van der Vaart play on the right in a 4-4-2

Against Arsenal we almost played a combination of 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1, but with Parker and Modric as the two “holding players”. Clearly Modric is not a disciplined holder (and we wouldn’t want him to be), so Parker was left doing a lot of the leg-work in midfield. Van der Vaart drifted from his starting position of right midfield (as we expected that he would), and did it to good effect in the attacking third – scoring once, feeding Parker for a one-on-one chance, and also being heavily involved in Adebayor’s excellent one-on-one chance.

Defensively, though, he has been questioned by many. In my Analysis of the goal conceded against Arsenal (02/10) I point out that he is slow to close Song down. However, this goal essentially stemmed from a corner, and then our failure to re-organise as a team – van der Vaart actually chases Song from the other side of the penalty area, whilst no other players react or try to get close to him. To say, then, that this goal came about due to the nature of the formation is incredibly harsh. What is fair, though, is that Arsenal had a lot of possession, and could have used the ball better down our right, with Walker having little protection ahead of him.

My solution (and I pointed this out pre-match), would have been to play Sandro and Parker holding, as per the Wigan game. With Modric, Bale and van der Vaart inter-changing ahead of them we have plenty of offensive options, whilst with two dedicated holders, we are able to cover the central areas whilst also able to cover the full-back areas where necessary – this is often the case in 4-2-3-1 formations, where full-backs push forward to provide width. However, this would have involved dropping Defoe, which takes me on to my second point.

2. Defoe or van der Vaart?

Redknapp states that Defoe is playing “very, very well” at the moment. This could be a classic case of a manager talking up a player to help build his confidence, but it could be that Redknapp genuinely thinks that Defoe is in red hot form (as many fans also seem to think).

Looking at Defoe’s contribution this season, it’s firstly important to note that he has already scored two league goals – half of his contribution last season. It is good to see him scoring again, and long may it continue.

The minutes per goal or assist for Adebayor, van der Vaart and Defoe, however, is interesting:

Emmanuel Adebayor 355 total mins 3 goals 2 assists – 71.00
Rafael van der Vaart 367 total mins 2 goals 2 assists – 91.75
Jermain Defoe 390 total mins 2 goals 1 assist 130.0

The minutes per goal, where many would suspect that Defoe would have better stats, is also interesting:

Emmanuel Adebayor 355 total mins 3 goals 118.3
Rafael Van Der Vaart 367 total mins 2 goals 183.5
Jermain Defoe 390 total mins 2 goals 195.0

Obviously it is early days, but this follows the pattern from last year, where Defoe’s “productivity” (to put it crudely) was well below that of van der Vaart and Pavlyuchenko.

In contrast to Redknapp’s “very, very good” I have regularly been tweeting that Defoe has been on the periphery of games, albeit working hard to pressurise defenders (which should be a bear minimum). I thought it would be interesting to look at his involvement in our play in our league games so far – thanks to there are stats available on the number of touches each player has in games.

  • Against Manchester United, Defoe had the least number of touches of any player (from either team). NB: Walker and Corluka played 45 minutes each, so I combined their touches.
  • Against Wolverhampton Wanderers, Defoe also had the least number of touches of any player (35 – the next least for Spurs was Friedel with 58).
  • Against Liverpool, only Kranjcar (28) had less touches than Defoe (34), and he had 40 fewer minutes on the pitch.
  • And finally, against Arsenal, Defoe had the least touches of the ball (36) of all of our outfield players (including van der Vaart (39), who played 26 minutes less).

I will not try to suggest that touches of the ball show the impact that a player has in a match, but it is certainly a valid criteria on which one can judge a player’s involvement. A striker cannot always be expected to have constant involvement, but van der Vaart managed 81 touches in his 81 minutes against Wigan, playing just a little deeper than Defoe did against Arsenal (see image below). Clearly Arsenal and Wigan are very different teams, but 81 touches is more than twice Defoe’s maximum number of touches in a game so far – van der Vaart gets far more involved when he plays the second striker role.

Average positions vs Wigan at the top, average positions vs Arsenal below.

Taking into account all of the stats – goals, assists and involvement in play – Redknapp’s summation makes me wonder – if Defoe is playing “very, very well”, how does he think van der Vaart is doing?

Many will argue that it is too early in the season to start judging any of our players. I would therefore add that last year, when partnered with far inferior strikers to Adebayor, van der Vaart managed 13 goals and 8 assists in 28 starts in his first season in the Premier League.

Defoe has only bettered that Premier League goal tally once in his entire career, when he scored 18 goals two years ago (of course eight of those goals were scored in two games – against Wigan and Hull). He got 8 assists in 2002/3 his most in the last five years is 4.

Defoe certainly has a place in some games, but in games where we need to select our best eleven players it’s a no-brainer for me – van der Vaart scores as many (or at least nearly as many), gets more assists, and has more influence on our play. He doesn’t always have the stamina to last 90 minutes, and he isn’t the most mobile but in my opinion he should be one of the first names on the team sheet.

Join the conversation

  1. Defoe everytime. Rafa's pony, and clearly wants out. Get rid ASAP.
  2. Jermaine Defoe every time for me ... He is a real natural goalscorer who fits into the 4-4-2 so much easier and who has added more to his game.
    1. This is an arctile that makes you think "never thought of that!"
    2. It's a real pleasure to find someone who can think like that
  3. Although Defoe lacked goals last season, it was down to Harry not giving him a long run in the side. No good for his confidence. He could give us 15-20 goals on a long run

    Has to be Defoe, not VDV
  4. Compelling argument - and I too long for us to play three attacking midfielders in front of Parker/sandro. Not sure bale would fit in at this point, mind.

    You must be (subconciously) cherry picking some stats here though otherwise Harry would have to be a complete idiot, and he isn't... What are you (and I) missing?
  5. I wonder how this will change once Ade's loan spell comes to an end next year.
  6. Look at the actualities: JD never or very rarely scores against the top sides, why? bescuse he is so predictable and easy to mark. He hardly ever gives assissts becasue he is one dimensional and very selfish. He drifts offside to much. Raffa offers a lot more than JD. JD would be a better impact sub than Raffa.
  7. Not a dilemma at all. VdV's twice the player Defoe is. If Defoe took most of his chances, then you could forgive his lack of involvement, but he doesn't.
  8. This is a very well written and well researched article. You should send it to HR. VdV acts like a spoiled brat, but he is clearly much better player. JD flatters to deceive season after season - I like him and will always support him in a Spurs shirt but he is simply not good enough.
  9. The answer is simple, play 12, and hope no one notices.
  10. Anon @ 16:28 - Rafa's pony?! I presume that's sarcasm!

    Anon @ 16:39 - Really? What do you think he offers that VDV doesn't (given my comments about Defoe only have beaten VDV's tally of last year once in his career)?

    Anon @ 16:42 - It went back to before last season tbh so I'm not sure it was just down to a lack of run. What makes you think he can get 15-20? He has only managed 15+ league goals once in his career!

    Spang - I probably am without meaning to - I guess Redknapp would argue that Defoe pressures defenders, offers more mobility, and runs the channels. I'd argue that we don't need him to do that now that we have Adebayor.

    Joel - I'm praying that we'll have snared Leandro Damiao by then...

    Anon @ 16:50 - I agree with all of that!

    TMWNN - Sums it up nicely I think.

    Ben - Cheers, that's really kind of you. I agree with you - not good enough for where we are now (but a good enough impact sub). I think we have 14 or 15 better players than Defoe, personally.

    Anon @ 17:11 - love it. So: Friedel, Walker, Dawson, King, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon, Modric, Parker, Sandro, Bale, VDV, Adebayor?
  11. Best option. Play VDV first 60 mins. Then bring Defoe in for last 30 mins.His fresh legs and pace should trouble the defence more at that time.
  12. play neither and paly lennon. Have we all forgotten him? Gives the side lovely balance and covers the full back.

    Bale Sandro Modric Parker Lennon.
  13. VDV all the way. Never seen Defoe chased by a top club, he's a good player, but a level below VDV.
  14. vdv everytime. He is a much better player he scores and assists in goals. Jd is there only to score which he doesnt do enough.
  15. VDV is the better player. Defoe can only score goals , he never gets his head up and can't track back any better than VDV. Probably better to play Defoe wide right if you play both because he is quicker. We should be forgetting about 4-4-2 and playing 4-2-3-1 like all the other top teams. With Sandro and Parker holding and Bale Modric and A.N Other supporting Adebayor.
  17. Have a feeling some of these 'Anonymous' comments are from the same Defoe loving person. Nice article...VDV everytime!! Too much of a class act to leave out of the side. Modric-Sandro-Parker-Bale and VDV-Ade is one beautiful midfield/attack. Then with the option of Defoe/Lennon coming on to freshen things up - can't go wrong!

    Also, if one of Defoe/VDV has to compromise to play on the right...why can't it be Defoe? He has proved he is more than able to track back, runs at players well, and will score if given the chance? Just a thought.
    AND ARRY LOOKING AT STATS U ARE AVIN A LAUGH .WE ALREADY KNOW HE DONT DO TATICS [BUT IF HE COULD!!!!!]its a crouch thing with defoe now i will play him no matter what ,i brought him so there!!ITS been said by pros,papers HARRY is biased towards players he buys !!!
    Did ever see him slag of Keane,Defoe,Crouch especially the way he did BENT an now PAV[plays 1 in 5games]if lucky
    Harry will pick DEFOE over VDV if he can ,because he is blatantly biased and does care about us ,he cares about his England prospects!!!
  19. Yeah well pav is rubbish , should have been sold. Can't pass, can't control the ball, no vision, all he has is a decent shot
  20. VDV every time and you don't need to have stats to prove it. Also, I don't think he is spoilt and too much is made of his comments: he gets asked questions and answers in a forthright Dutch manner. Defoe, frankly, does my head in: every bloody year there's some new training scheme that he has embarked upon to no obvious effect; every year he manages to get himself caught offside on a metronomic basis; every year he tells us how he has become more subtle, but then leathers the balls at a nice height for the goalkeeper as if he thinks he's from Planet Krypton. He should start on the bench and VDV should play as second striker behind Adebayor. With a midfield of Bale, Modric, Parker and Sandro and those two upfront as well as the present rearguard (Dawson's injury a blessing in disguise), I think that we will be threatening the top three. And I'm teetotal.
  21. Playing with the 4-4-2 against Arsenal also decreased the involvement of Modric, so it's not just a simple case of vdV vs. Defoe and who is the better player but which set up allows the most effective use of our players overall. Having both Sandro and Parker on allows the front four more freedom and less opportunity for the opposition to double mark Modric out of the game.
  22. Lots of Spurs fans still delusional about JD. JD is useless never scores against the top sides. He is rubbish and should never be picked ahead of VDV personally I would never pick him, doesnt link play up cant control the ball always offside the list goes on. But he his HR lovechild so will continue to be picked. This has been a no brainer for years we dont play the same quality football when JD plays we just dont was he even on the pitch against the goons?. I would sell him myself but sure hey I aint the manager.
  23. Good points in column. Against better sides, the 4-2-3-1 with Bale, Modric and VdV across the top is probably our best side, especially as Sandro and Parker both get forward from time to time. Against weaker or slower teams, I'd expect 'Arry's biological fondness for width and 'getting behind the defense' with a tall guy and a short guy to be hard for the manager to resist.

    I actually don't think this is the real issue. For me, the key issues are a)how can we start scoring from dead ball settings; b)where can we find cover for Ade if he goes down and c)when will Gallas be fit to provide cover for Ledders.

  24. no competition.vdv has much more to offer.but its highly likely that vdv will not be with us come january.never been a fan of hope for some new blood.podolsky of the german league would be a improvement..
  25. Windy,
    I think you nailed it it your initial summary, 'Defoe would be a regular in the majority of Premier League teams' i.e. but not a top four one.
    As said before, it's the HR lovechild business that gets in the way.
    More of this please Windy, very good!
  26. Windy, great article and i agreed with you on Twitter regarding this. I cant believe that anyone would ever pick Defoe over VDV. LemonadeMoney was bang on, he isnt a top four striker, otherwise he would surely be picked for England above average players like Zamora. VDV is a class footballer, who always wants the ball and makes things happen. Defoe, when he isnt offside, seems to think the best tactic is to try and shoot from anywhere on the pitch. Also rather than look where the goalkeeper is to try and get the ball past him to score, he just tries to hit it as hard as he can straight at him. I think he is a great option to come off the bench for the last 15 minutes or so but VDV must be number one choice. We must look to buy back up in January though as Pav is the worst striker i have seen down the Lane since the days off Colin Lee and Ian Moores.
  27. is this the perfect post ?? - - honestly Windy, this is fracking genius mate, spot on, calm, rational and backed up by stats, even the most rabid of defoettes couldn't proffer an argument here. Climb a tall building, get on its roof and start reading very very loudly, i salute you.
  28. It certainly is a no-brainer, and not because of number of touches etc etc. I am not a "Defoette" (nice word that) but I was impressed with his hard work in the NLD. He was continually dropping back to defend and help out. He also had a good shot on target that was saved and in the closing minutes he was unlucky with an angled chip to the far post that showed some vision. BUT his basically straightforward game and pace just cannot even be compared with the guile, control, vision and wit of Van der Vaart. The Dutchman for me every time.
  29. I think the days where fielding the same 11 men in the same formation week in week out are long gone, having the right people available at the right time is now the managers main concern.

    Just because I like to push alternative points of view to understand them: Defoe shouldnt play because he doesnt score against big teams... some skewed stats to say otherwise.

    Season 08/09
    Man Utd vs teams that finished in the bottom half 58/60 points (97%)
    Spurs vs teams that finished in the bottom half 24/60 points (40%)

    Man Utd vs teams that finished in the top 4 5/18 points (28%)
    Spurs vs teams that finished in the top 4 10/24 points (42%)

    Moral of story: Flat track bullies win you leagues (would still prefer to see vdV turn out if it were a cup final)
  30. Just to add, my only real criticism of VDV is that sometimes he plays too deep, i find he gets the ball from behind the DM line and is looking to pass on the counter but theres no one in space because the person who should be filling that roll is him, where as Defoe is the opposite, if I ever hear the phrase 'late run from defoe' on commentary i stand to win a tenner, it's been two years now.
  31. I think VdV's number of touches is misleading. Many times, especially when coming in from the right, he demands the ball from a central midfielder and then makes a short pass to someone slightly further over or slightly further forward. If he had not 'demanded' the ball, the central midfielder would most probably have made that pass himself.
  32. Top draw as always Windy,

    I for one, have always been a fan of JD. However the fact of the matter is that he is only considered to have had a good game when he scores. That one point being the problem. As previously stated above, his goal count is poor, and even when he does score and the crowd sing "He's a Yiddo" I always ask myself, apart from the goal, what has he contributed to the match. This may sound a little harsh and yes he did produce 18 league goals in the 09/10 season, but if I remember correctly 5 of those were against Wigan in the 9-1 drumming and a hat-trick against Hull City. He has scored a couple of goals in big games - anyone remember the overhead kick against Man Utd? Probably not as we lost 3-1!

    The fact of the matter is that VDV produces more in every game he plays, he has a knack for scoring, making decisive passes and yes I know he is as slow as Charlie Corluka but at least that means he will never be caught offside.

    For me its an easy decision for VDV to start ahead of JD in most games. He is pure class and Yes I have had my doubts regarding the system meaning an isolated striker in front of him but Bale and Modric should be supporting the forwards.

    If fans need facts to prove each players worth. I like the following:

    JD vs Woolwich Scum = 1 goal
    VDV vs Woolwich Scum = 4 goals

    Im a strong believer in playing two holding midfielders as have previously mentioned

    Keep up the good work Windy!
  33. Spurs are still blinded by the desire to prove that Pav and Gio are up to scratch so we end up realistically with one compulsory (Ade) and only two choices (Rafa/JD) as strike options.
    Is a half fit VDV vs streaky Defoe really a good enough choice for a team aiming for the CL?
    Worse than this we are up the creek with no paddle if Ade becomes injured and that is assuming he can be consistent all season even if he avoids injury.
    Regarding the VDV vs Defoe question I would choose Defoe as he looks to have a better partnership so far with Ade and it is worth pursuing.
  34. Harry saying that JD's playing "very, very well" is just an escape mechanism for when he chooses to bench VDV. From what we've seen, the man does not like to be benched.

    If I had to choose, VDV is definitely miles ahead of Defoe. I love JD, but even the stats you highlighted above prove it.

    Great post Windy!


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