It’s fair to say that Clint Dempsey has divided opinion among Spurs fans this season.
Last year with Fulham, the American international netted 17 times in the Premier League; Sunday’s strike at Stoke gave him seven this term. However, his performance did bring a huge amount of praise from Andre Villas-Boas.
“He has been absolutely immense this season with his assisting and his goal scoring and he has sometimes not got the credit he deserves. He is a hard worker and a very complete athlete and he had an amazing game. It was an extremely good individual performance.”
So does Clint Dempsey deserve more credit than he has been getting?
Clint Dempsey as a number ten
Clint Dempsey arrived at White Hart Lane on Transfer deadline day.
With Gareth Bale on the left, the American’s first role in the team was as a number ten. The initial signs weren’t good, as Dempsey struggled at playing with his back to goal and stayed extremely central in advanced areas of the pitch.
Our 1-0 home defeat to Wigan summed his play up at the time, as the further forward he got, the narrower his movement became. Most of the passes he played were backwards, as he was unable to turn due to his lack of lateral movement between the lines.
Dempsey did admit at the time that he was working on getting better at the position and felt that he had finally started to find his feet in his new role.
“We’ve been looking at videos, trying to figure out a way for me to make an impact and help the team. Being more central is good because you’re in a position where you see more of the ball, but it’s about getting on the ball and making the movements that are going to allow you to do that. I’m starting to do a better job in that respect.”
And he certainly did start to improve. A few matches later at home to West Ham, Dempsey’s movement was much better across the pitch and he assisted on a goal, whilst also rattling the bar.
He provided assists against Liverpool and Fulham, then scoring on our trip to Goodison.
The pinnacle with him playing in the middle was his last gasp equaliser in the 1-1 draw at home to Manchester United. Whilst Dempsey missed a good chance earlier in the match when one-on-one with David de Gea, the strike highlighted his knack for scoring big goals in big games.
Although he was a man for the big occasions, these moments were often few and far between. Whilst his work rate couldn’t be faulted, his end product often could be.
However, a recent switch back to his favoured left side has seen him come alive.
He started the comeback against Man City to earn a fantastic 3-1 win. Then there was Sunday’s goal and set-up against Stoke, keeping us in the hunt for a Champions League place.
It is his move back to the comfort of the left side that is finally seeing him starting to earn some credit.
Clint Dempsey on the left
Clint Dempsey was a star on the left for Fulham. The American would work his way inside from the flank, arriving late in the box in order to get shots away at goal.
With Gareth Bale operating on this side, it was difficult to see where Clint Dempsey would fit in at Spurs when he moved here. The American did struggle as a number ten in the middle of the park, but injury saw Bale move in to this position and the Welshman hasn’t looked back.
With Gareth Bale now filling the void in the centre, Clint Dempsey has had a chance to return to the left and he is starting to have an influence on games.
In the 3-1 detonation of Man City, he would score the goal that started the turnaround. Andre Villas-Boas was on his case about coming inside too early, which we can see from his passes received map, maybe a sign of impetuosity from being back in a role he knew well?
But the American popped up at the far post to get on the end of Gareth Bale’s cross to level the scores up.
It was a typical Clint Dempsey goal from his time at Fulham, cutting infield when the ball had gone to the other side and looking to work on the shoulder of the opposition defenders.
At Stoke on Sunday it was more of the same. Clint Dempsey was less impetuous with his movement from outside to inside this time, staying wider in the midfield zone, but then coming narrow in the final third.
His goal may have come after a miss-hit clearance by Marc Wilson, but the fact he was in space, in a central area to mop up, highlighted his good movement.
His ability to drift in to open areas was also evident as he set up the winner.
Again he had come in to the middle, but his natural tendency to be moving towards the penalty area and playing off the shoulder, allowed him to take advantage of Gareth Bale’s deflected pass.
Does Clint Dempsey deserve more credit?
Clint Dempsey arrived at Spurs three games in to the new campaign and without a pre-season due to his holdout at Fulham. That, combined with being thrust in to a new style of role as a number ten, saw him struggle to make an impact early on.
Whilst he could be given credit for his work rate, his performances were often one-step forwards one week, one-step backwards the next.
I wrote a piece back in November about “why we need to deploy Clint Dempsey correctly” and his time on the sidelines may just have been the best thing for him. This allowed Gareth Bale to take up his central position; his success in the middle has allowed Dempsey to move back to the left hand side on his return.
Clint Dempsey suddenly looks more at home in a position he has been accustomed to for years at Fulham. With Aaron Lennon stretching the play on the right, he is able to drift inside from the left and he has had a major influence on recent games, scoring some big and pivotal goals.
Whilst he may not have received much credit during his time playing in the centre, he is certainly starting to earn that now. If he starts on the left this Sunday against Sunderland, who’d bet against him coming up with another massive goal in our biggest game of the season?
Clint Dempsey could go from being a good squad player for Spurs to being an excellent asset as a secondary scorer.