Jermain Defoe: Breaking Down His Contribution for Tottenham Hotspur This Season
Up until last Sunday, Jermain Defoe's season of contrasts could effectively be dissected into two parts—a bright conclusion to 2012 and a frustrating opening to 2013.
The striker's goal in Tottenham Hotspur's 3-1 win over Manchester City—a typically clinical, stinging shot into the corner following his purposeful working of the space at hand—has created hope he might be about to embark on a fruitful third part of his 2012-13.
Before taking a look at what may be in store for Defoe in the final few weeks of the season, we begin with a look back at the highs and lows of his campaign thus far.
From August to Boxing Day
Jermain Defoe made the most of Emmanuel Adebayor's absence early in this campaign. The Togo international's move to Tottenham was not completed until after the season had begun, his tumultuous preseason leaving him unfit.
That left Defoe as Spurs' only experienced, recognized forward. His new manager Andre Villas-Boas had little choice but to start him at the front of the 4-2-3-1 formation the side was familiarizing itself with, but the striker responded well.
Despite starting only 11 Premier League games under Harry Redknapp in 2011-12 (though there were a further 14 substitute appearances and plenty more in the cups), Defoe had arguably played his best football since rejoining Spurs. Following a poor year prior, not only did he regain his scoring touch with 17 goals, his all-round game improved as a result of a greater work ethic.
Similar efforts were needed again if Defoe was to succeed as a lone striker. Any fears he might find himself isolated without a natural partner alongside him were largely dispelled by how quickly he reveled in the increased space he had to work in.
Defoe was a threat with and without the ball. His off-ball running was purposeful, and even if a pass did not come his way he was giving defenses something to think about. When he received it, he was often even more dangerous.
Both elements were typified by the first of a superb brace against West Ham United in November. Having dropped close to the halfway line, luring George McCartney and Winston Reid with him, Defoe proceeded to slip past them both and race towards the Hammers' box, before shooting into the bottom corner.
That was one of 14 goals Defoe contributed (in all competitions) prior to the turn of the year. At times he was wasteful or too selfish, but he had undeniably played a valuable role in keeping his team in touch with their rivals at the top of the Premier League.
Gareth Bale was not far behind in the Spurs scoring charts, but otherwise it was only Defoe who was scoring on a regular enough basis.
A Frustrating Winter
Villas-Boas' preference for 4-2-3-1 had meant up until around Christmas time, Adebayor mostly had to wait his turn to play. Defoe was playing well, and when Adebayor did appear, he was doing little to convince he should be picked ahead of his teammate (he blew a bright start against Arsenal by swiftly getting sent off).
Still, a two-man strikeforce was (reasonably) mooted as a way of giving Tottenham more presence and firepower in the final third. An injury to Clint Dempsey, until then the man most frequently used just off of Defoe, gave Villas-Boas a reason to give it a try.
Adebayor and Defoe had not played together too often in 2011-12, but when they did they generally clicked fairly well (a 3-1 win away at West Bromwich Albion in which both scored the goals particularly springs to mind).
Perhaps Defoe has gotten too use to playing upfront alone, but any hint of chemistry he and Adebayor previously had seems largely to have disappeared this time around.
Over the festive period and into the New Year, their performances together were dispiriting in their plodding predictability. Defoe found the channels and spaces he had previously been maximizing now occupied by his reacquainted strike partner, who unfortunately for Spurs was playing even worse.
The added downside of this was Defoe now had hit a dry spell. Even when Adebayor went off to the African Cup of Nations, otherwise good shifts from Defoe were marked by an absence of any real killer instinct in front of goal—for example in the 1-1 draw with Manchester United.
Compared to his lackluster showings a couple of years earlier 2010-11, Defoe was at least contributing elsewhere to the team. His role in Bale's equalizer against Norwich City exemplified his ability to help out in other places, but without goals Defoe seemed half a player.
An injury against West Brom in early February was the culmination of some fitness issues Defoe had been working around. It also marked the point that Bale stepped up as Spurs' chief goal-getter.
By the time Defoe (temporarily) was fit enough to play again, he was now competing with Adebayor to play with Bale, who had for all intents and purposes taken on a forward role.
What Next for Defoe and Spurs?
Could the turning point for Defoe this season have been the double he scored for England against San Marino in World Cup qualifying action on 22 March?
Two against the European minnows will not count among the biggest goals the 30-year-old has scored for his country, but they were strikes that may have seen him find his shooting boots again. For a striker struggling for form, any effort that ends up in the back of the net can be just what the doctor ordered.
Bar half hour against Swansea City just under a month ago, Defoe's goalscoring cameo against Man City last weekend was his first appearance since then. The conviction with which he fired that shot past Joe Hart did not look like coming from a player low on confidence.
A key development in Defoe, and indeed Tottenham's season, may also have been Bale reverting to a wide role against City. As good as the latter has been in recent months, there has been a feeling he would be better served with the greater freedom of a wing role—at least when starting games, with the flexibility for change later on.
If Defoe has found form again, Villas-Boas could well revert to the final third combination that fared so well earlier in the campaign (i.e. Defoe operating centrally but with plenty of support from the wings and the midfield behind). Bale's goal on the weekend demonstrated his own form is such right now he can make an impact from almost anywhere on the pitch.
A fit and firing Defoe is something to be harnessed for sure. If he can carry on where he left off against the dethroned champions (as of Monday night) against Wigan Athletic, Defoe may be about to finish the job he started earlier this season.
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