Tottenham’s record signing, Roberto Soldado, is expected make his debut for the club against Espanyol on Saturday at White Hart Lane. It will be the first chance many Spurs fans will get to see their new signing in action, but what should they expect on Saturday and for the upcoming season?
It seems fairly obvious that when you spend £26 million on a forward you expect them to repay you with a sizeable bounty of goals. On this count, Soldado should not disappoint. He managed more than 20 goals in all competitions for each of the last 3 seasons at Valencia and, perhaps most encouragingly, has improved that total each year; 25, 27 and, last season, 30, suggesting that at 28 years old he is peaking as a goal-getter. Between the two of them, Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor managed just 23, suggesting Soldado will drastically improve the team’s propensity put the ball in the back of the net.
He achieves such a tally by matching Defoe’s singular drive for goals, the Englishman’s willingness to shoot and, what separates him from the Tottenham number 18, a ruthless efficiency in front of goal. No Spurs fan will need any statistical evidence to show the regularity with which Defoe looks to shoot and his profligacy is, to a large extent, a product of his speculative approach to taking aim. Hence, to see that Soldado manages a substantial 2.9 shots per game to Defoe’s 3.2, suggest a striker with a similar appetite for seeing his name on the scoreboard. This hunger is what separates Soldado and Defoe from Adebayor, often accused of laziness, who often seems unbothered about scoring, point emphasised by his meagre 1.7 shots per game. However, what separates Soldado from Defoe is that he takes his shots in better positions, a point, expanded upon below, and proven by his far superior goal tally.
Fox in the Box
Asked which type of goal he most prefers to score Soldado replied as quickly as he finishes: the one’s with his first touch. A master of seeking out the greatest commodity in the modern game-space-Soldado scored the majority of his goals last season with his first touch. Conversely, Jermain Defoe has a tendency to take more time to manoeuvre the ball onto his favoured right foot which, although devastating when it comes off as it did against Manchester City at White Hart Lane, often allows defenders to cut off his angle and goalkeepers to set themselves for the shot. Emmanuel Adebayor was proved particularly frustrating for fans last season with his tendency to take far too many touches to get set for the shot. Soldado rarely takes a touch at all; he sees the space before the defender and hits the ball early, giving the keeper little time to adjust.
Perhaps more significantly every goal he scored last season came from inside the box. Whereas Defoe often lacks the presence in the box and Adebayor often drops too deep to link play, thus leaving the danger area empty, Soldado understands that this is where a striker makes his money. Of course, the truly great strikers score goals from all areas of the pitch, keeping defenders guessing, but whoever they are, all strikers do their best work in the box.
Soldado’s name translates as the soldier and one statistic that stands out is the regularity with which he is cautioned. 10 yellow cards is a hefty number for a forward player, and could be regarded as particularly pointless being, in the main, for dissent. However, it will certainly be positive to see a forward man fighting from the front, pushing defences back with a mix of aggressive, vertical movement and the tricks of the trade, elbows and all. Whereas the languid Adebayor was dispossessed 2.4 times per game in his 26 appearances last season, Soldado’s pocket was picked just 0.7 times on average. This points to both a greater commitment to retain the ball and a wiliness in denying the opposition to break up attacks. Moreover, despite being no giant, standing at 5ft 10 inches, the Spaniard has a wiry strength, which makes his aggression a force when compared to the lightweight attempts of the ever-willing Defoe.
AVB’s Leading Man
In a brilliant recent article, Michael Cox argued that Soldado was a perfect fit for Spurs considering AVB’s preference for vertical penetration. To many, Cox points out, AVB is the archetype of the Football Manager-playing, stat-obsessed, jargon-spewing modern coach, but, however people see him, he means what he says. Cox goes on to show how AVB played at Porto and how the signing of Paulinho was the clearest indication yet of the Portuguese’s desire to repeat the winning formula at White Hart Lane. The most important qualities of that team were its quick transitions, relentless, wave-style attack and a willingness to value the space over the ball. In this system, Falcao was the perfect focal point. There is arguably no striker so good at locating and occupying the spaces behind and in between the defenders than the Colombian. Soldado is not of his quality but he sits in the second tier of centre forwards, possessing the abilities of the Monaco forward just not in the same volume. Like Falcao, he notches most his goals in the box, with first time strikes the consequence of stellar technique and razor-sharp movement. These shared qualities are exemplified most obviously in the number of spectacular volleys these two men have scored in recent years; goals which need terrific, instinctive goal-getting technique and natural ability to find one’s self the fatal half a yard from the defender. Furthermore, there are two pieces of play which should make fans hopeful that Soldado will receive the service that he, and AVB, hopes for. One, is Lewis Holtby’s 30 yard through-ball, which quickly turned the Manchester City defence and set up Jermain Defoe for a 2-1 lead at White Hart Lane. The other is a beautiful lofted pass from Paulinho at this summer’s Confederations Cup, which landed on Neymar’s chest and, eventually, led to Fred bundling the ball into the back of the net. If Soldado can get this quick-transition service, he will no doubt thrive at White Hart Lane
One hates to end on a negative but one accusation that has followed Soldado around is that he suffers from inconsistency. The top-tier centre forwards currently operating in world football-Falcao, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robin Van Persie, Luis Suarez-tend to score their goals throughout the season (admittedly Van Persie had an extended dry spell in the third-quarter of last season), whereas Soldado, somewhat like Defoe, tends to score in bunches. Luckily, these bunches tend to be more extended and more regular than Defoe’s, hence the disparity in their respective goal-scoring records, but it is still a significant weakness in Soldado’s game. What is most encouraging though, is that the most significant of his gluts came at the backend of last season as he fought, valiantly to get Valencia into the Champions League, finding an unerring consistency when his team most needed it. For Spurs’ sake, it might be just as well that he failed in that objective!
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