Dempsey finally settling into Spurs role

Posted by Alistair Tweedale (

As Clint Dempsey finally managed to break through Manchester United's stubborn defence on Sunday afternoon in Spurs' 1-1 draw, the American wheeled away to the delighted home fans having scored his side's decisive goal against the Red Devils for a second time this season.

His 17 goals last season at Fulham won him a summer move to Tottenham. He may well be disappointed with a return of only five this season that has led a fair portion of the Spurs faithful to question the value of his signature.

However, having scored their third at Old Trafford back in September and the second in the 2-1 win at Southampton before Sunday's equaliser, without Dempsey's goals Spurs would have five fewer points this season.

Those goals have not been memorable strikes by any stretch of the imagination, nor have they demonstrated great individual skill. All three have come from in or around the 6-yard box, but each has been a key goal and has highlighted a great deal of awareness and know-how in the penalty area from Dempsey.

Where exactly Dempsey is best-placed in a team seems an issue that nobody quite knows the answer to. He was so effective at Fulham as he was given free reign of the pitch, with little defensive responsibility and the freedom to roam where he liked. At Tottenham, the team is not built around him and he has had to adapt his game accordingly.

Whether considering the American as an attacking midfielder behind Jermain Defoe or as another striker in a 4-4-2, without the creativity of players who usually occupy such a role, Dempsey has to contribute in other ways. He said Sunday he felt he began slowly at Spurs but has improved, and one of his main flaws early on this season was his continued failure to hold the ball up effectively.

He gave the ball away due to a poor first touch at least once in all but three of his first 14 appearances in a Spurs shirt, but has only done so once in his last four matches, and not at all against Manchester United, as can be seen from his 'turnover' stats in the WhoScored player statistics section for that game.

His role has become one where he receives the ball into his feet and looks to bring the likes of Mousa Dembele into the game. His Belgian teammate possesses fantastic dribbling skills and is far better suited to creating chances by playing intricate passes into Dempsey and Defoe in front of goal. There were very few signs that his partnership with Defoe is going to become one that works; instead, that they are rarely involved together given both players' lack of creativity.

Dempsey said that Spurs had recognised that crosses were causing Manchester United problems and it was a result of a cross that he was able to grab his goal. Only at home to Wigan, Stoke and Aston Villa have Spurs attempted more crosses in a Premier League game this season than Sunday.

However, it was not Dempsey who was threatening from those crosses. At Tottenham he has not exhibited the same aerial ability that he did at Fulham, where he scored four headers last season. Not only has he failed to score a single headed goal this season, he has only had three headed attempts in 18 Premier League appearances.

In fact, Dempsey's position at Tottenham has seen his overall goal threat significantly reduced, averaging a shot every 32 minutes this season compared to under 23 minutes last term. However, interestingly, his conversion rate is 13.5 percent this season, up from 11.6 last term. Given that he isn't carrying as much of a goalscoring burden this season, he is limited in his goal-scoring chances and marginally more clinical as a result.

Gylfi Sigurdsson is arguably more suited to playing the advanced midfielder role than Dempsey, but he has been decidedly ineffective when called upon, failing to score from 32 shots. No goalless player has had as many shots in the Premier League this season as Sigurdsson, and he seems short on confidence in the same way that Dempsey was earlier on in the season.

With Emmanuel Adebayor away at the African Nations Cup and Spurs severely lacking in depth in that part of the pitch, the pressure on Dempsey has certainly increased in recent weeks, and with four goals in his last four appearances in all competitions he seems to be coming into his own.

As a result, the question may well be turning from whether Spurs can cope without Adebayor to whether the Togolese striker will win his place back in the side upon his return.

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