Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor have led the Tottenham attack in the early days of Tim Sherwood's managerial tenure. How, if at all, will Jermain Defoe's departure impact their roles moving forward?
Save for a year with Portsmouth between 2008 and 2009, Defoe has been one of Tottenham's few constants as they have progressed from a decidedly mid-table outfit, to a team battling it out—albeit not always successfully—with the Premier League's elite. In that process he has become the club's fifth-leading scorer on the all-time list, and this season moved in front of Martin Chivers as the top marksman in European competition.
Other goalscorers have come and gone at Spurs, but as Defoe's former teammate Mido put it in a comment on his Twitter page:
Defoe has been one of the most loyal players to Spurs in the last ten years..Wish him all the best in his next step #COYS— Mido (@midoahm) January 10, 2014
There will be time for further reflection on Defoe's contributions to the north London club. A more pressing concern is understanding how the Spurs attack will be without its long-time servant.
Manager Tim Sherwood was understanding in the statement announcing the player's departure in what he described as "a great opportunity for Jermain." He also stated his belief "we all know he will give his best until his last minute in a Spurs shirt."
Interestingly, Sherwood also made sure to comment on the thinking behind letting Defoe go in regards to the team:
We have several attacking options within our squad for the remaining dozen or so games of the season after Jermain departs and we shall keep our options under review. We also have a goal threat from players in other areas of the pitch including having wide players and attacking midfielders who will enable us to vary our shape when required.
It suggests there are no plans, currently at least, to invest in another striker.
Between Emmanuel Adebayor, Harry Kane and Roberto Soldado, Spurs certainly have options up front for the remainder of the season.
Defoe's nine goals in cup competitions have proved useful, as pointed out by statistics website Squawka:
No player scored more goals in the Europa League group stages this season than Jermain Defoe (5) - 38.5% chance conversion rate.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) January 10, 2014
However, the decrease in games from here on out was likely to see his role even more diminished if others continued to be preferred in the Premier League.
Sherwood's use of a front two fulfilled its objective of getting Spurs back in the goals over Christmas (scoring nine times in four league matches that included three wins). This had previously been an issue—at least prior to December—when they had only scored nine in 12 top-division games.
Last week's FA Cup loss to Arsenal showed that it does not always guarantee goals, though. In this day and age of packing out the midfield, it also means running the risk of being outnumbered and outgunned by better teams.
Sherwood has been accused by some—including The Independent's Michael Calvin—of "tactical naivety" in the wake of that defeat.
That assessment appears a little harsh to this writer at least. Playing two forwards does not necessarily mean a gung-ho approach. Indeed, Spurs might have fared better in defending against the Gunners with a little more steel in midfield. Nonetheless, you could see why Sherwood backed his attack to get at Arsenal given their good form preceding the fixture.
Besides, Spurs had more numbers further back and just one striker vs. Manchester City and Liverpool, and that did not stop them conceding 11 goals in two games (of course, it was more complicated than that).
Sherwood does, though, appear to be accounting for the possibility of injury, and/or lost form from his strikers, in his emphasising of the "goal threat from players in other areas of the pitch." Tellingly, he makes it clear he envisions these players being able to let him "vary our shape when required", indicating a move away from a straight front two is a possibility.
Between Nacer Chadli, Christian Eriksen, Lewis Holtby, Erik Lamela, Aaron Lennon, Paulinho, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Andros Townsend, Spurs have the numbers and variation of talent to try different combinations between midfield and attack.
The 6'3" Adebayor or even the less experienced, but similarly imposing Kane might have better joy than Soldado or Defoe had at the centre of all this as a lone striker. The more diminutive pair struggled in the role against unrelenting English opposition.
Then again, Sherwood would also have to negotiate the issues of creativity that often undermined Defoe and Soldado's efforts here.
The balance between maintaining shape and giving players flexibility to improvise is one his predecessor, Andre Villas-Boas, struggled with at times this season. Especially without one player to truly lift things, as Gareth Bale did so often last season.
In the long-run, it will be intriguing to see what kind of forward Tottenham seek to employ. Defoe leaving will give them a little room to try someone or something different come the summer and next season.
Be that an outside purchase, or placing faith in a youth product like Kane or Shaquile Coulthirst (currently on loan with Leyton Orient), finding someone to provide the long-term service Defoe has will not be easy. Former Spur Graham Roberts seems certain of that much:
I want to thank @IAmJermainDefoe for his fantastic service to our club had many chats with Jermain and I know what spurs mean to him. Coys— Graham Roberts (@GrahamRoberts4) January 10, 2014
For now, Spurs have just over a month more of Defoe before they begin life for the first time in five years without him.