Football

Roberto Soldado & Tottenham continue to struggle - what's the solution?

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Soldado  is a fine striker, but is he the right man for Spurs? (©GettyImages)
Soldado is a fine striker, but is he the right man for Spurs? (©GettyImages).

For Tottenham and their fans, another night of worry and woe. More time to fester on the uncertainties that surround their team following an uninspiring, stodgy 2-0 win over Norwegian outfit Tromso which came thanks to an own goal and a rare Mousa Dembele strike.

With a home tie against Manchester United to come on Sunday, it's a long way back from the depths of the arctic circle, especially with so much to ponder.

Before we go any further, let's offer some balance; this was a game which secured them top spot in Group K (although Anzhi Makhachkala's draw did that for them before the full-time whistle); as it stands they are the only team through five fixtures having won every game in European football's ugly sister of a tournament.

Their performance can also in part be put down to playing on an artificial pitch which seemed to have demons lurking beneath it on a freezing night in the middle of nowhere.

That said, Spurs and the travelling 750-or-so hardy souls who braved a night so cold that Tromso couldn't open up half of their stadium would have expected more of a reaction to Sunday's 6-0 mauling at Manchester City.

What they got in fact was confirmation that there is no quick fix to their team's problems, that thier problems are inherent in the DNA of Andre Villas-Boas's team.

The biggest of all their concerns is goal scoring. And that means shining the spotlight on Roberto Soldado.

The first thing a striker will be reminded of when they goals desert him is his price tag, and with countryman Alvaro Negredo offering a glimpse of what might have been, the £26 million Spurs shelled out for the Spaniard looks pretty damn big right now.

Confusion abounds over Soldado and whether the blame for Tottenham's - and his - lack of goals can be placed solely at his door.

So far he has four goals in the Premier League, three of which came from the penalty spot and a goal from open play against Aston Villa on October 20 - the last Tottenham managed to score.

That's more than 300 minutes of action since they strung enough passes together in the Premier League to muster a chance presentable enough that it could be put in the back of the net.  

Tim Krul's performance in the 1-0 defeat against Newcastle of course offers a caveat to that, but when 30-plus shots reign in on one team's goal, the answer must surely be found on the attacking side rather than the performance of an individual, no matter who good he was.

Against Tromso this evening, Tottenham had 14 shots, with two leading to goals. Soldado, the team's sole striker against a side relegated from Norwegian football's top tier that have yet to win a game in Europe, had none. Not a single shot on goal.

Throughout the game he was often found huffing and puffing, and frankly not making a huge deal of effort to show for the ball.

His night was summed up when he gifted away possession then followed that up with a reckless yellow card in an attempt to atone for his mistake. It was a rush of blood to the head that could have been the response to any one of a thousand moments this season.

There are two questions baffling Tottenham fans; how is it possible to get the best out of the former Valencia man? And whose fault is it for the club's current malaise? 

The answer to the former is straight-forward, as is the latter; although the solution isn't quite so easy.

Soldado is a striker who thrives off early service. It's a much-touted fact that all but one of his 82 goals for Valencia in three years came from inside the penalty area, but what is overlooked is that how a large portion of his goals came from his first touch, often taken as early as possible.

Watch footage of his time from Spain; the man is a snap finisher aiming to catch his opponents off guard, if ever there was one.

That means getting the ball to him nice and early; something admittedly which Spurs tried to do against Tromso without much luck because of a deep-lying defence which stopped the ball over the top. 

Because of that Spurs looked like an uncouth, and not particularly successful, long-ball team. This doesn't look like the way forward, even more so when you consider the club's proud traditions.

Against teams more inclined to sit back they are crying out for more creativity in the final third and they need it much more quickly than they are currently getting - Christian Eriksen's injury was unfortunately timed.

To keep up his end of the bargain, Soldado has to show more, improve his movement and effort. Running the channels is all well and good, but when Spurs squeeze the play, he has to be on the move, and at the moment that isn't the case.

Equally, it must be said that Andre Villas-Boas has placed his faith in Soldado by both paying such a high price for him and fielding him ahead of Jermain Defoe on a regular basis. He must have a plan in his head in which Soldado fits.

That leads us on to question number two and why it is so difficult for Spurs to do just that.

They are a patient possession side who like to squeeze the play into a small portion of the pitch, maintain pressure and either pick the lock or wait for their opponents to crack. 

As a result they often appear hesitant, even lacking in bravery. Their midfield is full of talented midfielders who lack a certain element of dynamism on the ball.

Eagle-eyed viewers will often notice Soldado's body language. This season for Spurs he has thrown his hands in the air, tutted and rolled his eyes, and looked a little sorry for himself.

The same viewers will also notice how often he makes his first movement which is more often than not followed by kick of frustration as his second movement. 

Tottenham's ball players like Mousa Dembele and Paulinho are often guilty of playing the safe, lateral pass rather than playing the killer ball.

That is what Andre Villas-Boas's game plan is based around and something that he will live and die by. If reports are to believed he is much closer to the latter than he is wiling to admit.

Play is too slow and at the moment they lack guile, speed and movement, which can at least partially be put down to the fact they are still getting to know one another.

Perhaps that is why Villas-Boas wanted Joao Moutinho so badly, to vary the tempo and offer a modicum of incision, and perhaps it is this reason that they struggle so badly to break down defensively-minded teams.

Out wide Andros Townsend on the right is more inclined to shoot (and wildly at that) or get to the byline and get the ball in. In that situation Soldado is often begging for a cutback, but he is at his best when the balls from out wide come in early.

Tottenham and Villas-Boas have bought and done so heavily over the summer with a clear plan in mind. Thier approach worked for them last season, albeit with Gareth Bale on hand to help them out when they couldn't make the breakthrough.

The game against Tromso was a snapshot of their frustrations. It offered no comfort or glimmer of hope that Sunday's defeat at the Etihad Stadium was a wake-up call. Perhaps, simply because the nature of the game, it was a lose-lose situation for the north London club.

Either way there is plenty to ponder ahead of the Premier League champions rolling into town on Sunday and plenty of questions hanging in the air. Amongst those will be "why can't Tottenham score?" and "Is AVB the right man?" 

Perhaps the one they should be asking, however, is why they haven't been linked with a crafty, creative midfielder. One perhaps, that is currently a tad unhappy in Newcastle.

Topics:
Football
Europa League
Tottenham Hotspur
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