Is Roberto Soldado an Improvement on Adebayor and Defoe for Tottenham?
If and when the seemingly inevitable occurs and Gareth Bale completes his much-coveted relocation to Madrid, the discussion of how Tottenham should go about replacing him will surely and frantically ensue.
If the judgement of Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas is on the money, though, a great deal of that replacing has already been done. The £26 million summer recruitment of Roberto Soldado should, in short, rectify the problem that Bale himself went about addressing last season: the side's shortage of goals.
While the Welshman earned his end-of-season gongs last term through an astonishing array of repeatedly spectacular and often last-gasp goalscoring heroics, the logic behind bringing in Soldado is that, Bale or no Bale, such rescue acts shouldn't be needed this time around.
There is good reasoning behind the idea, too: The Spaniard stuck away more league goals on his own last term than the Spurs trio of Emmanuel Adebayor, Jermain Defoe and Clint Dempsey could mange between them.
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To measure the new man in a striker's most rudimentary currency, then, there would appear to be little doubt as to whether he represents an upgrade on last season's forward options. But it's worth looking deeper into what exactly Spurs' record signing will add to the side, and how Villas-Boas' setup might need to adapt.
Perhaps the most stark change is that Soldado is much more of a pure finisher, more of a predator, than either Defoe or Adebayor.
The Togolese forward is perhaps most in his element utilising his raw athleticism—either holding off defenders and linking play with his back to goal, or latching onto crosses from wide men. With Spurs' dwindling employment of old-fashioned wingers, coinciding with Bale's own move into a central role, the latter ability has become less and less useful; the former, though, remains important.
As for Defoe, he would probably see himself as a Soldado-esque poacher, preferring to dart across his marker to prod home low balls. He's always looking to engineer a yard of shooting space in a crowded penalty box.
But there exists a stark fact that the England man will not want to hear: Soldado's conversion rate last season was double the efficiency of Defoe's.
With the two players' strikes coming from similarly goal-sniffing positions, and neither forward offering much beyond the most basic of link-up play, it's hard not to conclude that Defoe is in danger of being rendered obsolete at White Hart Lane following his club's summer dealings.
If a striker is there to offer little else but goals, then his economy of finishing is imperative.
Comparing Soldado to Adebayor, though, is rather different.
As mentioned above, the former Arsenal man is, for all his oft-deplored flaws, an incredibly useful hold-up striker—a body to use as a pivot around which the rest of the attack can move and interchange. His passing during what was perhaps his best performance of last season, at Stamford Bridge, illustrates this perfectly.
Though his passes were rarely particularly probing or incisive, often very simple layoffs, he was invariably available for his teammates to bounce the ball off and very rarely ceded possession. In this sense, the gangly frontman offered—indeed, offers—something that Soldado does not: a platform upon which the likes of Lewis Holtby, Gylfi Sigurdsson and perhaps even Bale can build attacks.
Should Villas-Boas, as is expected, opt for a lone striker this term, his side's supporting attackers—i.e. the trio behind Soldado—will be required to offer more immediately piercing interplay, ideally culminating in a chance for the Spaniard, as opposed to the edge-of-the-box fare that happened a lot last season with too little tangible end product.
With a squad not short of natural creators (most notably Holtby and Sigurdsson, as well as Mousa Dembele), this should not prove too difficult an adjustment.
They will not have a striker to provide abundantly for them, though. Adebayor laid on 27 chances for teammates over the course of last season. Soldado managed marginally more, with 32, but took just under twice the amount of on-field minutes to do so.
It's also notable how many of Soldado's goals in last year's La Liga came courtesy of deliveries from wide, which not only hints at the logic behind bringing in Nacer Chadli from FC Twente, but also promises an easy target for the old-fashioned inclinations of Aaron Lennon as well as the marauding full-back duo of Danny Rose and Kyle Walker.
Overall, then, the installation of Soldado into an ever-evolving Spurs side is likely to play to a number of the squad's pre-existing strengths—namely, the midfield's ability to spot and execute a through ball and the wide players' propensity to hit the byline and deliver.
As the players get used to their new frontman—presuming he remains first-choice—there's likely to be a stark cutdown in the ponderousness of the midfield passing. If Villas-Boas' old Porto side are anything to extrapolate from, it should result in higher-tempo, more speedily penetrative attacking moves.
Or, at least, that's the likely blueprint. But as the Portuguese know well from his last job, even the best-laid plan can quickly go awry.
Time will tell how successful he is in implementing his vision on the other side of London, but what's certain is that the introduction of Soldado will make for fascinating viewing at White Hart Lane.
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