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Jack: Soldado still waiting to be discovered at Spurs

Kristian Jack
11/3/2013 5:41:05 PM
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Go to a game at any level, at your local park or in the Premier League, and you will still hear it.

"We need a goal, shoot more!!!"

Thanks to a rise in analytics, the inaccuracies of the statement have been explained many times. Such emotional messages are shouted at times of frustration but, without question, less and less people believe the 'more you shoot the more you score' approach.

For those still unsure about this notion, they should study the case of this season's Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League.

Spurs drew 0-0 on Sunday at Everton to move into fourth in the table, despite scoring just nine goals from their first ten matches. They are ahead of Manchester City despite scoring 19 goals less.

Tottenham are where they want to be in the table but they are far from where they want to be as an attacking unit.

Andre Villas-Boas' side currently average one goal every 100 minutes in the Premier League. Of the nine goals, three have been penalties. The other six have come from open play, at an average of one every 150 minutes.

Despite needing more goals, however, their fans are not shouting 'shoot more.'

That's because, through 10 matches, Tottenham leads the league in shots per game (17.5). They are also third in the league in shots on target per game (5.9).

This is not a team struggling to get into the final third and create opportunities, it is a team handing the opportunities to the wrong players.

Finding Soldado

Call it 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-1-4-1, or all of the above, Spurs are a side that plays with a sole striker flanked by wingers/attackers helped by a central three, usually with one pushing further forward than the other two.

In nine of their ten league games so far, their main front man has been new signing Roberto Soldado. The Spaniard cost Tottenham 26 million pounds in the summer after scoring 59 goals in 97 league appearances during the last three seasons for Valencia in La Liga. He is seen as a major upgrade to what Spurs had last season.

So far, Soldado has four goals (three penalties) but only one from open play. This has led some to put the blame on him as the reason for Tottenham's inefficiency in front of goal.

"I need to see more from Soldado, I don't think he is helping his teammates enough," commented Robbie Earle during Sunday's game on NBC.

The 28-year-old obviously plays a part in Tottenham's struggles to score goals but it is much smaller than some believe.

The cast of characters behind Soldado 

It is clear Tottenham is a team still trying to find their identity this season. It is not easy to make the amount of changes they made this summer and succeed immediately, something Villas-Boas acknowledged earlier this season after their win against Norwich. "We have good competition for places. We are stronger than the previous year, now we have more quality in depth and we need time to bond them together."

This transitional time has seen a number of different players operate as the three attack-minded players behind the striker (the two wide players and the most attacking member of the midfield 3).

At Everton on Sunday, AVB selected Aaron Lennon on the left, Lewis Holtby in the middle and Andros Townsend on the right. The three combined for just nine passes to their striker, with the left back and goalkeeper topping the combinations charts towards Soldado.

(photo: fourfourtwo.com - Click For Larger Image)

In total, Soldado combined best with his left back (who was the game's best player) in an otherwise frustrating day finding outlets.

(photo: fourfourtwo.com - Click For Larger Image)

This has been the story so far for the sole striker in Tottenham's system. In the ten league games this season (Soldado 9 starts, Defoe 1), the starting striker has received the ball just 211 times; an average of just over 21 times per match.

It is a remarkably low number for a team that shoots so often.

League leaders Arsenal, ranked sixth on 14.3 shots per game and second with 6.4 shots on target per game, are finding their main striker a lot more.

Olivier Giroud has started all ten of their league games so far. He has played 865 Premier League minutes (three minutes less than Tottenham's starting strikers) and has received 357 passes from his teammates (146 more).

Not only has this helped Giroud score more goals but it also means he connects better with his teammates to help create a much more cohesive attack. Giroud averages close to 30 completed passes per game while Soldado is at just 21.

Through 10 matches, the Frenchman is receiving 15 more passes per game than he would if he played as the sole striker of Tottenham, despite Arsenal having attacking threats in the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil who have all showed they can score consistently at this level.

Tottenham, on the other hand, have surrounded Soldado with gifted players, many who have yet to prove they are goal scorers at this level, meaning they should be relying more on the Spaniard to not only finish off balls they give him but to get involved in the attack and help them more.

Lennon certainly isn't a scorer and knows his role, except he now finds himself on the left where he can't deliver regular crosses in for Soldado, who scored all of his 24 La Liga goals last season in the penalty box.

Townsend, now preferred on the right, has started each of their last nine games and leads the team in shots per game, twice as many as Soldado. England's new golden boy, however, is part of the problem at Tottenham, wasting many chances and not combining with the club's star striker.

There is some irony that Townsend's only goal this season came from a cross, not finished by any of the players in the box, which rolled into the corner of the net at Aston Villa.

The winger is clearly a favourite of the manager but for the club to succeed going forward he must start to work better with Soldado.

A grand total of 23 passes to the striker of choice in 757 Premier League minutes so far is abysmal. Townsend's pace and ability to penetrate deep into opponents' territory is impressive but he needs to find his striker a lot more than once every 33 minutes if he is to turn into a player Tottenham can rely upon.

Mesut Ozil, he will never be, but it is worth noting the German has found Arsenal's striker 44 times in 608 minutes, or once every 13 minutes.

(photo: fourfourtwo.com - Click For Larger Image)

Five of Tottenham's six open play goals this season have all come from their own efforts, and even the goal they scored from a direct mistake (their second at Villa scored by Soldado) you could argue came from Tottenham's high pressing that caused the home side's turnover.

The other five showed examples of what Spurs need to do to improve. Gylfi Sigurdsson's brace against Norwich was helped by Christian Eriksen's decisive ball on the first goal and then ability to switch the play to find Paulinho on the second to cross the ball into the box. Eriksen again found Sigurdsson's intelligent diagonal run against Chelsea and it is not difficult to assess that a Tottenham team in need of goals need the Danish creator back in the side.

Defensive Solidity

However, Villas-Boas clearly wants his team to be more difficult to break down, which is why Holtby has been preferred to Eriksen in the last three games and why new signing Erik Lamela has yet to play more than 27 minutes in a Premier League match.

The former Chelsea man led his teams to just 15 clean sheets in 65 Premier League games as a manager before this season but he has already got seven from the team's opening 10 matches. Paulinho, a healthy Sandro and Moussa Dembele in the middle of the field have helped their back four look very comfortable. Michael Dawson is playing the best football of his career at centre-back, his new partner, the technically impressive, Vlad Chiriches looks perfect in this system while Jan Vertonghen's move to left back has solved a long issue in that position.

Spurs are ranked second in the league in shots allowed at just 9.5 per game and look very much like a top four contender at the back. Going forward, they now need to find the balance and that starts with getting Soldado involved in the game more.

The Spaniard is not the problem for Tottenham's problems in front of goal. He is the solution still waiting to be discovered.

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