Roberto Soldado perfectly anchors AVB's 'vertical' football

Posted by Michael Cox

Among the raft of intelligent, geeky and academic young football coaches, Andre Villas-Boas probably epitomises the genre more than most. He was never a professional footballer, he was an international coach by the age of 21, he made his name as a video analyst under Jose Mourinho and he admits to being fascinating by the video game "Football Manager" in his younger days.

A particular theme among these coaches is their innovative -- or pretentious, if you prefer -- use of language. Brendan Rodgers speaks in a particularly odd manner, using unconventional phrases that sometimes appear clumsy and forced -- he once described Suso as playing in "that false winger, that seven-and-a-half role." But Villas-Boas appears more authoritative with his unusual phrases. He dislikes opponents who play with a low block, and he wants his players to provoke the opposition with the ball, demands quick circulation and is wary of the opposition transition. Many of the phrases are being used increasingly widely.

Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty ImagesRoberto Soldado's skills at volleying make him perfectly suited for Andre Villas-Boas' system at Tottenham.

Villas-Boas' favourite phrase, however, is vertical -- by which he means up the pitch toward the opposition goal. He demands his teams play quick, purposeful attacking football -- and whereas Rodgers focuses upon possession, Villas-Boas wants vertical penetration.

His Porto side -- which remains a better representation of his favoured footballing style than his efforts with Chelsea or Tottenham thus far -- was a perfect example. Porto had talented midfielders, but they didn't hold onto possession for the sake of it -- they attempted to transfer the ball into the final third as quickly as possible. Porto were relentless, powerful and determined, consistently launching wave after wave of direct, immediate attacks. Opponents were overblown by their sheer force, rather than cut open slowly by their subtlety.

The key goal of the season, the Europa League final winner against Braga, was a great example. Fredy Guarin won possession 10 yards inside his own half, drove forward down the right, checked back -- and then delivered a perfect ball that was half-cross, half-lofted through-ball, perfectly onto the head of Radamel Falcao. It summed up Villas-Boas' style of football -- Porto attacked directly and hit the front man immediately.

At Spurs, Villas-Boas has lacked a reliable frontman. Jermain Defoe performed well last autumn but his form quickly dripped, while Emmanuel Adebayor provided sporadic brilliance but too much lethargy for a Villas-Boas side.

Now the Portuguese coach has turned to Roberto Soldado. It was an obvious choice -- with 24 league goals last season, the Spanish striker was among the top 10 goal scorers from Europe's major five leagues last season. Amongst the untouchables -- Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robin van Persie -- and those already on the move, like Edinson Cavani, Falcao and Alvaro Negredo, only Leverkusen's Stefan Kiessling and Dortmund's Robert Lewandowski could compete with Soldado in terms of goal scoring.

However, few others are so perfectly suited for the vertical football Villas-Boas desires. Soldado is a slightly unusual footballer -- a short, mobile, technical poacher and arguably the type of striker who had supposedly been rendered obsolete, at least in 4-3-3 systems.

The one thing Soldado excels at, however, is volleying. The number of volleys he scores -- and the sheer technical audacity of them -- is quite remarkable. The perfect goal to sum up Soldado would be his opener at Mestalla against Atletico Madrid last season. Running onto a long, accurate ball from right-sided centre-back Ulrich Rami, Soldado managed to anticipate the pass before one centre-back, then reached the ball a fraction ahead of the other centre-back, taking the volley at a necessary height to prevent the challenge halting the move. It was, put simply, a stupendous strike.

It remains to be seen whether Soldado can replicate that goal -- although you can bet he'll manage at least one stunning volley this season -- but the point is a much wider one. This is a forward expert at controlling and dispatching direct forward passes, and if Villas-Boas wants a lone centre-forward capable of playing in this type of system, Soldado is the man.

He shares Falcao's love of finishing moves with one touch, slamming the ball home before the defence have managed to position themselves. He's also a natural at sprinting in behind opposition defences for weighted through-balls, possessing an immediate burst of pace, rather than searing outright speed. Maybe the two qualities originate from the same root causes -- a great sense of anticipation and an ability to time runs perfectly.

Soldado says he likes to "play on the limit of the opposition defensive line," and when quizzed about his favourite type of goal, the Spanish international answers as instantly as he finishes. "The ones with the first touch,” he said. "That says a lot about my teammates."

Which implies he needs accurate, reliable service to play his favoured game, and there's a question mark about who will provide the passes at White Hart Lane. Tom Huddlestone is capable of those balls but seems unlikely to be a regular. Meanwhile, Sandro's passes are naturally conservative, Dembele distributes the ball calmly from side to side, while Paulinho's verticality is more about his off-the-ball running than his passing. On paper, it's a perfect midfield trio in a 4-3-3 but lacks a genuine through-ball specialist.

Talk about a Spurs striker based around vertical football three years ago, and most would assume you were talking about Harry Redknapp's love of Peter Crouch. But the manager has changed, the language has changed and the striker has changed -- next, Spurs need their midfield passing to change, too.

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