With four goals in the Premier League, but only one from open play, Roberto Soldado is still finding his feet in the English game. So far he has played with inverted forwards, but could more of a traditional winger in Aaron Lennon be the key to unleashing the Spaniard’s potential?
How Soldado excels
At Valencia, the team was very much set up for Roberto Soldado to take advantage of his movement inside the box. The Spanish side would try to get him the ball in two ways.
Firstly, by working the ball wide to the flanks in order to provide low-driven crosses, often from inside the penalty area, that he could hit first time.
Secondly they would look to slide in through balls from central locations, as players like Ever Banega would try and hit him through the channels.
Valencia destroyed Malaga at the Mestella through the former method, whilst Espanyol were carved open by the latter.
The striker seemed a perfect fit of our system with how Andre Villas-Boas wants us to score goals this season.
Our Portuguese manager has set us up to play passes through the opposition defence for a runner looking to cut in-behind his marker.
In central areas this means that the runner can have a shot at goal. In wider areas, it means that he can cut the ball back or play a short cross, preferably from inside the area. In this way, the runner is closer to his target and thus has a higher chance of completing the pass.
In Dinamo Tbilisi 0 Spurs 5 Roberto Soldado looked to have hit the ground running as his two goals arrived in just this fashion. A ball played through the defence to a streaking Andros Townsend allowed him to cut the it back to the Spaniard for his first.
Soldado then added the fifth as Nacer Chadli got behind the Tbilisi right back and sent in a short low cross.
It seemed as if Roberto Soldado would continue his Valencia form and feast on opposition defences. But it’s not quite happened that way. Ironically, the movement of Andros Townsend, which was so good in Georgia, is now arguably working against the Spaniard.
The movement Andros Townsend
In that game in Tbilisi, Andros Townsend’s electric pace and willingness to go outside and get in-behind by hitting the by-line saw him score and set up two more.
Since then his movement has become much more narrow, as he is focussed on receiving the ball higher up, cutting inside and shooting rather than creating.
This was highly evident against Swansea at the Lane earlier in the season where he didn’t look to get in-behind their defence.
It was also a feature against Newcastle last weekend. We did move the ball to him out wide, often over some distance. He often picks it up wide just over halfway, but once he gets further up field he receives more passes in the centre as the play became narrow.
Against Swansea, the short crosses from inside the area and pull backs were not in evidence as any crosses (ignore the corners taken) came in from out wide on the flank.
At home to Newcastle, he did complete the short squared pass for Christian Eriksen’s miss when 1v1 with Tim Krul. However, this moment apart, he once again attempted to cross from wider positions outside of the box.
What’s more, he’s often been delivering these crosses from cutting back on to his favoured left foot.
His only goal this season arrived rather fortunately from doing just this, as Townsend cut back inside to curl a cross in to the box. Lewis Holtby ducked underneath the ball as it bent in to the corner of the net, but the passage of play highlighted much of what Andros has been doing on his crossing.
By doing this to cross, it not only slows the play down and any momentum is often lost, but also means it’s being delivered from much further out than it should be.
Coupled with this, Andros has been firing away too much. Most often it’s cutting inside on to his favoured left foot. However, when he’s got in-behind down the outside, he’s also opted to shoot rather than pick out a team mate – passing in these situations was something that he was doing well out in Tbilisi. At home to Newcastle though, he fired straight at Tim Krul when a square ball to Soldado for a tap in was the correct decision.
The Spaniard had made one of his runs in to the box that probably would have been rewarded at Valencia, but here he was left to ask Andros why he didn’t square it?
Could Aaron Lennon get Soldado scoring?
Whereas Andros Townsend has become increasingly narrow, Aaron Lennon provides the width and a pass first mentality that Roberto Soldado has been lacking.
The diminutive winger started our first game of the season away to Crystal Palace, but injury meant he then spent several weeks on the sidelines. Since his return, he’s featured a couple of times on the left as AVB has persisted with inverted wide forwards. It’s a position that doesn’t get the best out of his speed and willingness to create with his right foot though.
In our first game of the season down at Selhurst Park, there were a number of signs that the play of Aaron Lennon could be a good fit with Roberto Soldado.
The first was his combination play with Kyle Walker and his willingness to run in-behind the opposing full back.
Aaron Lennon does like to hit the by-line and often he’s a bit too predictable at doing this. In these situations, the ball is usually at his feet, but in AVB’s system to hit a cutting player on the run, it means that he is moving at speed when he gets the ball rather than from a standing start.
This means that he was coming short towards Kyle Walker.
Then spinning in-behind so that Kyle could hit him on the move the other side of the Palace full back.
From there he was able to pick out his target, either Roberto Soldado or Gylfi Sigurdsson in this case.
Lennon and Walker were at this two-man game all afternoon. The nature of not only Aaron’s pass first mentality, but also his looking to get short crosses and pull backs away from inside the penalty area was highlighted whether they were completed or not.
One pass found it’s way to Roberto Soldado, the other 4 attempts were blocked, but all were from inside the box. One of these attempted short crosses was how the winning penalty came about. Lennon’s short chipped ball from inside the area was blocked illegally by Dean Moxey’s arm.
The most important thing about Aaron’s movement is that as he stays wide it allows Roberto Soldado more freedom to go to work in the box. The defence has to stay honest by guarding him, rather being able to collapse and pack the area as it can with both Townsend and Sigurdsson moving centrally.
Although it may only be a matter of time before Erik Lamela gets a run in the side, Aaron Lennon could well be the answer in the meantime to get Roberto Soldado scoring.