When Jermaine Defoe is on he scores goals and right now he is on. He has five premier league goals this season, despite getting limited minutes off the bench. Against West Brom on Saturday, Defoe scored a fantastic goal that gave Spurs a late lead. This seems to create a real managerial problem for Harry Redknapp over who to start. Past attempts to start Rafael Van Der Vaart out wide have exposed his defensive weaknesses and Adebayor isn’t going to be benched. So tactically there just isn’t room for both Defoe and Rafael Van Der Vaart. So who to start?
While the English press have made this seem a real dilemma, it isn’t. The fact is that it is hard to imagine Defoe starting for any of the other top 6 sides (City, United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool). This is because, besides scoring an occasional goal, Defoe does little else when on the pitch. One only has to look at the Guardian chalkboards. Against West Brom Defoe attempted just 22 passes, lowest of all the Spurs starters. Adebayor attempted 52. In just 70 minutes against Aston Villa and 66 minutes against Fulham Van Der Vaart attempted 62 and 42 passes respectively. As a substitute Defoe completed just 1 pass in 20+ minutes against Villa and just 4 passes in 25+ minutes against Fulham. The plain fact is that when Spurs play Defoe they are playing with a specialist – a goal poacher – who adds little to the team except when in the goal mouth area.
Defoe fits the typical big-little striker pairing common of the 4-4-2, meant to partner with a target the likes of Crouch or Heskey. But he is a classic 4-4-2 striker playing in a 4-5-1/4-3-3 age. In a time when most teams are deploying three man central midfields, Defoe is both unable to play as the central “attacking” midfield and doesn’t have the size or the pace to play as a lone striker. One could argue that Adebayor fits that big-little pairing perfectly – which he does – but the problem is that there is a reason 4-4-2 is out of fashion. With three-man central midfields, a team that deploys two classic strikers runs the risk of getting overrun in the center of the pitch and losing a grasp of the game. In this sense Defoe is a luxury most teams can’t afford to deploy.
Now one might say – who cares. The guy’s job is to score and that is exactly what he is doing. But in the first half against West Brom Spurs were struggling tomaintain possession and create chances. West Brom’s high energy work rate and the lack of Luka Modric in central midfield and a true attacking midfielder like Van Der Vaart, meant Spurs had trouble linking the play. In the second half when West Brom’s energy level subsided and the game got more stretched, Defoe became a larger part of the game and found more chances for himself.
Defoe is an ideal player to bring off the bench when the game is stretched or when Spurs are chasing the game and need a goal poacher. That’s the role he would play for the other Champions League contenders and that’s the role he should play for England.