These strikers of ours

Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor
Before, during and after yesterday’s victory over Swansea the debate about the striker position reared its ugly head again.

When will some Spurs fans finally understand: we can’t field a striker we don’t have. We don’t have an in-form striker who does it all. We have to make the most out of the short and unsatisfactory supply of strikers we currently have.

The whole Adebayor vs Defoe debate is flawed. Neither of them is cutting it at the moment but if both were firing on all cylinders there wouldn’t be any debate at all. Why? Because of the simple difference that one suits our current style of play more than the other. There is no way anyone could argue Defoe is a better all-round player than Adebayor. The only argument that is currently keeping the debate alive is the 8 goal difference between the two. If you look beyond the goals there’s a world of difference to what either player contributes to the team’s overall performance.

Defoe lacks almost all the qualities to play the role of the lone target man that our current 4-2-3-1 system requires. He lacks height, his hold-up play is pretty much non-existent, he lacks the composure to delay his run to spot a pass and most of all he doesn’t particularly link up well with any of our attacking midfielders.

Today was no different. As soon as Defoe came on we lost any sort of control over the game. Swansea were in the ascendancy, our back four dropped deep, we cleared the ball but to who? A striker standing 5ft5 tall, not exactly a powerhouse. As soon as Defoe came on our football in the final third was gone. Both Sigurdsson and Bale didn’t even bother getting close to Defoe to receive a flick-on or lay-off.

Impact on team’s performance

To give an insight into how the substitution impacted the team’s performance let’s look at some data from the second half. Defoe was brought on in the 60th minute of the game. To isolate the impact of the substitution we focus on the 15 minutes in the second half before the substitution and the 15 minutes after the substitution.

First up the action areas. If you look at the difference between 45th-60th minute and 60th-75th minute it’s clear that we were being pegged back more and more. In the first 15 minutes after the substitution, more than 40% of the action happened down the centre of Spurs’ own half. Judging by the action areas, the substitution seems to hurt our play in Swansea’s half as the action in the middle of their half fell from 12.3% to 4.11% and the action in the wide attacking areas dropped significantly as well. The increase in action in and around Swansea’s box seems odd but can be explained by Defoe playing higher up than Adebayor, although this increase did not lead to more shots on goal or opportunities created.

Swansea away difference action areas

Spurs’ share of possession dropped from 41% in the 45-60 time frame to 32% in the 60-75 time frame. The pass completion dropped from 73% to 67%. What’s even more worrying is the dramatic slump in the number of attempted passes, from 62 to 27. The passing map also shows that successful passing, especially short passes, inside Swansea’s half completely dried up after Defoe took Adebayor’s place.

Swansea away difference passing

These are just two examples that show the negative impact of the substitution on our performance. The introduction of Lewis Holtby helped to improve the team’s performance somewhat, with possession improving to 44%, pushing the action in the game more towards the halfway line in the final 15 minutes of the game, even though pass completion continued to drop.

The main problem with the introduction of Defoe is the lack of hold-up play in Swansea’s half. As soon as he came on the team failed to clear the ball without losing possession straight away because of the lack of hold-up play and lack of smart interplay up front between Defoe, Bale and Sigurdsson. With Adebayor on the pitch cleared balls were more often converted into possession through flick-ons or lay-offs by Adebayor to Bale or Sigurdsson. What’s the effect? The back four has more time to move forward and deploy the high line.

Both strikers head-to-head


Both Adebayor and Defoe completed 88% of their passes. Adebayor completed 22 passes in 60 minutes, Defoe completed 7 passes during his sub appearance. Despite only being on the pitch for 35 minutes, Defoe’s 8 attempted passes seem a poor return. For example, he wasn’t involved in the game at all between the 71st and 85th minute.

Adebayor vs Defoe - Passes

Action areas

When comparing the action areas it becomes clear that Defoe doesn’t roam into the wider areas as much as Adebayor does. Whether this is a good or bad thing depends on the situation. If it’s just over the halfway line I don’t see the problem since dropping deep, creating positional triangles to get the short-passing game going is something you’d expect from a lone striker. On the other hand Adebayor does roam out wide too much in the final third which results in a lack of targets in the box for crosses. Defoe on the other hand does like to stay centrally and attack space in the penalty box, but since we were on the back foot he didn’t feature much in and around Swansea’s box as he would normally do.

Adebayor vs Defoe - Action areas

Goal attempts

I can be very clear about this. Both had 1 clear-cut chance which I expect them to convert and both saw their shot saved rather comfortably. 1 goal attempt per striker is simply not good enough. The team put 10 crosses in the box of which none were either converted or even deflected goalward. Neither Defoe nor Adebayor showed enough initiative to get on the end of crosses or invite a through ball into the box. Both were too static and lacked composure on the few occasions they did have a clear sight of goal. Once again we had to rely on Gareth Bale for most attempts on goal (5).

Crosses and shots

Overall performance

Combining the action maps and the passing maps I’d say Defoe failed to engage in the short-passing game that Adebayor did well in the first half. Even though the team was pushed back, Defoe stayed high up the pitch, resulting in very few touches (11) and passes (8). It could have been AVB’s orders to play off the shoulder of the last defender but Spurs failed to move forward enough to be able to play through balls or an accurate ball over the top. Adebayor didn’t provide enough presence in the box and showed too little interest to get on the end of crosses. His crisis of confidence continues. Still, even when he is not scoring his input is more effective and more valuable to the team than Defoe’s overall contribution in games in which he doesn’t score.

So now what?

Neither Adebayor nor Defoe is hitting the ground running. They’ve scored 12 league goals between them this season. To put that into perspective, Rickie Lambert has scored more goals on his own for lowly Southampton. Defoe hasn’t scored for Spurs since Boxing Day and Adebayor’s vital Europa League goal against Inter was his first since scoring against Reading on New Year’s Day.

Whichever way you look at it, our strikers’ returns are grim reading this season. Even though Defoe enjoyed a nice hot streak earlier in the season, everyone who has been watching Spurs over the past few seasons knows he blows hot and cold like a cheap air conditioning system. By the time the January transfer window opened it was pretty clear that we needed more goals since Adebayor wasn’t showing any of the form he showed last season and all the other new attacking midfield signings weren’t making up for the loss of Van der Vaart’s 10+ goals every season. Levy should’ve acted in January but, in accordance with true Spurs January window tradition, didn’t do anything to address the worrying situation in our striker department. This has resulted in Spurs having to rely on individual touches of brilliance by the rest of the team, and of course Gareth Bale in particular, to get the goals needed to win its games in 2013.

The level of stick aimed at Adebayor or Defoe differs significantly. I don’t really get that since both have been as effective as an open water fountain in Antarctica this season. Defoe might’ve scored 8 more goals but his overall contribution in the last couple of months is as shocking as Adebayor’s. Playing with Defoe up top feels like playing with 10 men at times, while seeing Adebayor fail to get on the end of crosses is frustrating too.

Personally I couldn’t care less who plays up top as long as the team performs and we get back to winning ways. But if neither of them is scoring, I want to see the striker who is most effective in the current tactical formation and style of play up top. We had a similar situation a couple of seasons back. Crouch didn’t tickle many Spurs fans’ fancy but his partnership with Van der Vaart was much more effective than partnering Van der Vaart with Defoe.

My point is I couldn’t give a f**k if we had Bilbo Baggins up front, with that midfield you’re guaranteed more than enough chances.

– A Spurs fan

It’s obvious we lack a lot of quality up front but there’s no point in dwelling on that now. AVB needs to find a way to squeeze the absolute maximum out of the current situation. Whether that means sticking by a certain striker, picking one based on the opposition or playing with 6 midfielders and no striker. Whatever gets the results.


Dutch Spurs fan, football connoisseur and ambassador of free-flowing attacking football.

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4 comments on “These strikers of ours
  1. Matt says:

    For me, neither are good enough. I think Adebayor is better as a lone striker, whereas Defoe is a goal scorer more than anything else. The only thing for me that puts Defoe before Adebayor is the work rate and passion, Adebayor never seems like he wants to be there! Lack of passion in his performances. Need to buy in summer!

  2. lijien says:

    I have a feeling the Dempsey up top experiment may be reintroduced.

  3. hambleman says:

    have to say this makes a lot of sense..i have been so frustrated with adebayor’s finishing but he does link up well and retain possession..had a chelsea season ticket holder tell me that Defoe is miles more committed ( making runs, moving defenders around) than Torres but i guess that isn’t saying much either..

  4. Gazzawuzgodnothod says:

    Great Blog – as I wrote in the match thread with my preferred formation – for the striker postion I put ‘who cares they’re both shit’. As you rightly said though maybe AVB did ask Defoe to sit on the shoulder of the last Swansea man in the hope of killing the game off, maybe this tactic was undone by the lack of work rate/ability/mental strength in the team which lead them to drop deeper, maybe Swansea just upped it having been briefed by their gaffer to do so in our historically weakest phase of the game.
    Perhaps AVB’s tactic was only undone by these factors and maybe the stats don’t quite show these influences on the success of this strategy.
    Either way I’m not disputing the overall assessment of our ‘strikers’, just think a positive move by AVB might not be reflected in a balanced way by these stats.