Clint Dempsey: Rating His Performance for Tottenham Hotspur So Far This Season

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistFebruary 6, 2013

Clint Dempsey: Rating His Performance for Tottenham Hotspur So Far This Season

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    Any regular visitor to Bleacher Report's World Football section will likely have read or at least seen a few articles written about Clint Dempsey this season.

    At the risk of overexposure, here is one more.

    Dempsey is actually at an interesting juncture in his first season with Tottenham Hotspur. Off the back of a good couple months individually, he is set to face some serious competition for a starting place.

    Looking back at the USA international's season so far, this article examines how good a signing he has been for Tottenham, and how this might impact what comes next for Dempsey.

The Individual

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    Clint Dempsey acknowledged last month the "slow start to the season" he had after joining Tottenham at the end of the summer transfer window (via the London Evening Standard).

    The 29-year-old's preparations for the season had already been undermined by his dispute with Fulham over his desire to leave the club. Now he was adjusting to different surroundings, while developing a rapport with new teammates.

    Doing so with the campaign already underway, without the acclimatization period of preseason, it is not surprising it took him time to settle.

    Those early appearances saw Dempsey display intermittent flashes of quality, on occasion linking up positively with others from his advanced position just behind Jermain Defoe up front.

    For the majority of his first two months in a Spurs shirt, though, he was more a passenger than a genuine contributor.

    The standout moment of that early spell was the winner Dempsey scored at Old Trafford. That goal against Manchester United showed how he could be a threat for Tottenham. It was just a case of finding a way to involve himself more frequently in between those intermittent moments (more about that on the next page).

    From November onwards, Dempsey has found his way inwards from the periphery of games, playing a part in Tottenham's own upturn in form. Big wins against West Ham United and Fulham were due, in no small part, to bright performances from Dempsey, who featured prominently in many of his team's advances forward.

    After briefly being sidelined through injury over Christmas, Dempsey had to wait his turn again as Andre Villas-Boas experimented with two strikers for a period.

    Commendably, though, when Dempsey got his chances, he took them, grabbing goals in good results against Reading, Coventry City (in the FA Cup) and Man United.

    These were important contributions in weeks when goals dried up elsewhere in the team. Despite his career-high 22 goals last season with Fulham, he probably not so prolific as to be relied upon as Tottenham's chief source of goals however.

The Teammate

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    Dempsey's early ineffectiveness was partly due to him getting used to a new team.

    For a few weeks, though, Mousa Dembele's absence behind him in midfield proved particularly problematic.

    Dembele was one of the main tools Tottenham had in getting Dempsey the ball in good areas. The Belgian's runs forward gave his former Fulham teammate an outlet from which to receive the ball in the central positions he generally occupied.

    Even as Dempsey struggled to make his mark in the early games, it was not because he saw little of the ball. When Dembele was injured for a few weeks, though, he became increasingly isolated.

    For a player trying to find his way at a new club, this was particularly bad timing.

    Tom Huddlestone replaced Dembele, and he is just not inclined to get forward as much. Against tough opponents like Manchester City and Arsenal, who can dominate possession, Dempsey was unable to get involved in any telling way.

    Dembele's return to fitness undoubtedly helped Dempsey in this regard. However, in fairness to the American, he has became more comfortable on the whole with other teammates too.

    Dempsey's position means he is in a prominent role whenever Spurs go forward. The increased familiarity with the rhythm of a winger like Aaron Lennon or the understanding of where Defoe likes to make his runs forward have resulted in Dempsey being part of a more united Tottenham attack.

    There have been a couple great examples of this recently. The 3-1 November win over West Ham was one and, more recently, the 1-1 draw at home to Man United.

    Not everything Dempsey tried came off in the latter match, but he was involved in some terrific exchanges as Tottenham attempted to get back into the game. The American put in a good shift that day and was deserving when he netted the eventual equalizer.

What Comes Next?

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    Despite Dempsey's solid form over the last couple of months, the arrival of Lewis Holtby has ensured there will be extra competition for his place in Andre Villas-Boas' starting XI.

    This writer went into more detail about Holtby's potential selection here on Monday. While both he and Dempsey could feasibly play elsewhere, both are probably best suited for the role just behind the striker in Spurs' usual 4-2-3-1 formation.

    Dempsey's goals, assists and all-round hard working performances of late will ensure Villas-Boas does not automatically throw him away just because he has a new toy to play with.

    But when Holtby replaced Dempsey in the recent 1-1 draw with Norwich, the German's subsequent energetic performance contrasted considerably to the more measured displays of the man in the No. 2 shirt.

    The Newcastle United game will be a telling (though probably not definitive) test of what Villas-Boas might have in mind for this position.

    If Holtby does get the nod, it does not mean Dempsey will be permanently relegated to the bench. However, it might act as a catalyst for the latter upping his game at the next available opportunity (which might happen this Saturday regardless), as he seeks to show why he should be his manager's go-to guy.

    Perhaps it is too early to call this one a battle between these two players. Instead it might be wiser to show patience with Villas-Boas and his coaching staff, who are probably more delighted at having two attacking midfielders as good as Dempsey and Holtby.

    They may play at different times or on the pitch together. If used wisely, though, they could both be huge players for Tottenham over the remainder of the season.