Roberto Soldado has had a difficult start to his career at Tottenham. Yes, he has netted four goals in nine games, but it is well documented that three of those have been from the penalty spot (and expertly taken they’ve been too). From open play however, the Spanish striker has struggled to find space, struggled to get involved in build-up play, and struggled to be on the end of Tottenham’s attacking moves.
I don’t believe it to be his fault. It’s not that he hasn’t been trying, nor has he been particularly guilty of missing chances when they have come his way. I believe the problem is tactical – surprising given Andre Villas Boas’ reputation for tactical nous.
What it comes down to is that the Portuguese manager is a bugger for an inverted winger. This season he has generally played the left footed Andros Townsend on the right, cutting in. On the left, he’s played one of Chadli, Siggurdson or Lennon – all right footers, also cutting inside.
If you look at Soldado’s goals for Valencia, a large percentage came from crosses – especially when the team’s wingers got past or in behind the opposition full back. Spurs’ inverted wingers are constantly cutting inside looking for a shot or to bounce the ball off Soldado, the would-be target man. That this has worked once or twice doesn’t detract from the fact that holding the ball up is not the Spaniard’s game. He is the proverbial “fox in the box”. Meanwhile, a true target man – the polarizing Emmanuel Adebayor – can’t even get a game in the Capital One Cup.
It could be argued that Spurs’ wide-men moving inside creates space for the full-backs to bomb on and get crosses in, and that may be true. But anyone familiar with Kyle Walker’s final ball will know that the problem won’t end there. Ultimately, Andre Villas Boas’ system is set up to get the best out of Andros Townsend and Tottenham’s host of creative midfielders, and so far it’s been to the great detriment of Roberto Soldado.
To get the best out of their $26m striker, I think Spurs need to be a bit more traditional in their wing play. Townsend on the left and Lennon on the right would provide greater balance, and the two of them on their natural sides, beating the full-back to whip in crosses and cut-backs would see the team create far more chances not only for Soldado, but Paulinho too whose late runs into the box deserve better service.
Spurs have had a steady if slightly unconvincing start to their campaign. I get the sense that providing the right kind of ammunition for Roberto Soldado might just be the difference between another disappointing end to the season, and a top-four finish.