Why Spurs aren't using Soldado correctly - and it's not his fault
Andre Villas-Boas' reign at Tottenham Hotspur has come under close scrutiny following the heavy defeat last weekend, but it's nothing when you contrast it to his eight-month period at Chelsea. Despite the poor results against West Ham and Manchester City, the club is still only two points from a Champions League position.
There has been plenty of criticism for the Portuguese tactician this term, especially for his continuing persistence with Roberto Soldado as a lone striker. Two of the best pundits on the English Premiership, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, were in mutual agreement that he shouldn't be playing the role for the team.
Their argument is a valid one when you look at the Spaniard's goal return and the method of football the team has been playing during the campaign. Assuming that a more physical striker such as Aston Villa's Christian Benteke or Atlético Madrid's Diego Costa is a better fit makes sense when you realise that before this weekend's games, only Aston Villa had executed more long balls than Spurs this season.
Neil Warnock even went so far as to claim "I can’t see that he is going to be a Premier League player. I don’t see it in him. I don’t see the commitment and want to get into goalscoring positions." It's a pretty harsh assessment of a forward with seven goals in 12 caps for Spain.
- 2005-06 Real Madrid 2 in 11
- 2006-07 Osasuna 11 in 30
- 2007-08 Real Madrid 0 in 5
- 2008-09 Getafe 13 in 34
- 2009-10 Getafe 16 in 26
- 2010-11 Valencia 18 in 34
- 2011-12 Valencia 17 in 32
- 2012-13 Valencia 24 in 35
- 2013-14 Tottenham 4 in 12 (to 30 Nov)
It's a little unfair to simply maintain that this is all Soldado's fault. Tottenham were fully aware what they were getting when they made the signing: a finisher, in and around the area. It's up to the manager to impose a style upon the team that enables them to get the best out of their club-record purchase.
There have been calls to include Jermain Defoe or Emmanuel Adebayor, but there's little between the trikers. After 12 league games, Soldado has four of Tottenham's nine goals, though three were penalties. At the same stage last year Defoe had five goals and like Soldado was registering the majority of those against recently promoted sides.
Whilst Adebayor had two goals and a red card against old-club Arsenal, the Togolese striker is perhaps the player most capable in the current approach. Still only 29 years old, Adebayor has the ability to hold up the ball and bring others into play: it was only two years ago that he was scoring 17 league goals and providing 11 assists.
For Soldado, there's the need to adapt to a new country, club and system in a team readjusting to life without their most prominent player and accommodating a number of new signings.
At least the formation is familiar: at Valencia the forward was consistently used at the tip of a 4-2-3-1 formation and scored on a regular basis. In all he scored 81 for Valencia, including 30 in 46 games last season.
Soldado's strength isn't in the air or holding up play: he relies on service behind the opposition defences and for others to create chances for him around the six-yard box. Under Ernesto Valverde, Valencia had an average of six through-balls a game, whereas this Spurs team is averaging just one per game.
No Premier League team is taking more shots per goal than Tottenham, but they are fourth and third bottom respectively for shots inside the six-yard and 18-yard boxes. This indicates that their attacking players are shooting from distance rather than looking to create opportunities closer in - the kind the former Real Madrid kid thrives on. Soldado attempts 2.3 shots per game, but both Paulinho and Andros Townsend are guilty of wasting more chances.
Only Crystal Palace and Newcastle have had more shots outside the box than Spurs, and for a predator like Soldado it must be disheartening. His only goal in open play was from a clever pass by Paulinho behind the back four against Aston Villa, with the team also enjoying their best result.
Valencia were averaging 2.4 offsides per game in 2011-13 as Soldado looked to sneak around the rear of the last man. Spurs are the lowest in this season's Premier League on 1.2. Getting caught offside is not an advantageous statistic, but it shows the willingness to breach opposing defences with key passes and off-the-ball running.
The forward isn't completely blameless, displaying poor finishing on his debut against Palace and then recently against Newcastle (including two headers from set-pieces), whilst his occasional lack of movement can amaze those who observed him in Spain. There's unquestionably a case to be made that Soldado is not making the right runs as often, knowing that he won't be getting the ball in the areas in which he desires.
Scoring is a problem for Tottenham Hotspur, not just Roberto Soldado. Last season, the now-departed Gareth Bale and Clint Dempsey provided 42% of their 66 league goals, with only 16 goals scored by strikers. You can point fingers at AVB for his lack of medical knowledge, the attacks on the fans or the reinvestment of Real Madrid's Euros – but if his use of Roberto Soldado as a lone striker is a poor decision, it is due to the team's lack of tactical suitability rather than the player's ability.