Jermain Defoe reacted angrily to being substituted against Wigan and the boo boys were out in full force to let Andre Villas-Boas know what they thought of the decision.
The manager defended his actions afterwards saying.
“The most important thing for the players to realise is that we do things for the benefit of the team. We understand individual frustrations but we, as a team, are more important. The game wasn’t going well for Defoe in our thought process. Maybe he could think the opposite but we don’t take him off to punish him. We took him off to improve the team.”
Taking your top goalscorer off when behind may be surprising, but tactically it was the correct thing to do with Jermain Defoe being relatively anonymous in the game.
Wigan’s deployment of three centre backs and two screening midfielders effectively exposed Defoe’s lack of movement as a way to stop Spurs’ top scorer.
As a result he received just 7 passes in the match and failed to get a shot away at goal.
The decision to take him off was the correct one due to five factors.
1. Wigan’s approach to the game
Wigan are the only team who play consistently with three centre backs in the Premier League and so this formation is not confronted very often.
In order to be successful, movement is key as Gary Caldwell often plays as the deeper lying of the three in between Ramis and Figueroa, acting as a sweeper. This can negate strikers who play on the shoulder looking to get in behind as there isn’t any space due to the Scot’s positioning.
In front of the back three, Ben Watson and James McCarthy act as a screen for the defence, so a striker needs to come deep or move wider in order to get on the ball.
Jermain Defoe was only able to gain possession 7 times in his hour on the field, due to his inability to move in between the lines and become more difficult to cover.
Once he came in to the game, Emmanuel Adebayor was effective at dropping deeper, holding up the ball and working the channels.
2. Spurs approach
In order to beat Wigan, we needed to move the ball wide and expose the space where Emerson Boyce can often be left one-on-one.
The Latics play heavily down the left through Jean Beausejour and Shaun Maloney and this can skew their formation to this flank, leaving Boyce on the right exposed. With three centre backs clogging the middle, this area in-behind Boyce is rife for attacking and other teams have had success here, as we saw in the 5 keys to Spurs vs Wigan.
Spurs were trying to move the ball down this flank through Gareth Bale and Jan Vertonghen and then to cross. We put 39 balls in to the box in the match, of which 24 were from open play, with just 3 of these successful.
Wigan have conceded several goals in their last five Premier League matches, with Jelavic, Michu, Fletcher, Rodallega and Tomkins all converting from crosses.
Jermain Defoe is less of a threat to convert a cross than either Clint Dempsey or Emmanuel Adebayor.
3. Clint Dempsey or Jermain Defoe?
To bring Emmanuel Adebayor in to the game, the choice for Andre Villas-Boas was between Clint Dempsey and Jermain Defoe.
With Wigan’s approach to the match, Jermian Defoe was struggling, whereas Clint Dempsey was at least moving between the lines to get on the ball.
The American is also an aerial threat and with our approach to moving the ball wide and crossing, it meant he was the natural choice to stay on the field.
This was for the benefit of the team to play the percentages, rather than hoping a lucky break would come Defoe’s way.
4. Spurs in the Final third
Up until the change, Spurs were limited in the final third. We were only completing 65% of passes and balls were being played square to the flanks, with very few through or in-behind the Wigan defence.
Once Emmanuel Adebayor came in to the game, his movement, along with that of Clint Dempsey, meant that Spurs’ passing became a lot more aggressive.
The ball was moved in behind, especially down the left exposing the space behind Emerson Boyce, whilst also in to the box through the channels.
Spurs completed 68% of passes in the final third after Adebayor entered the match, at a rate of 1.6 passes per minute. Whereas previously we were only completing passes at 65%, not much of a drop off, but only at a rate of a pass every 1.1 minutes.
This might not seem like much, but if we had played the whole match this way, then we would have completed an extra 45 passes in the final third. This would have surely created more chances.
5. Shots at goal
The change also led to an increase in our shots at the target. Prior to Adebayor’s arrival, we had only taken 6 shots at goal in 58 minutes, with just 2 in the box.
In his 32 minutes on the pitch, we managed 7 shots at goal, with three in the box and Steven Caulker’s header was cleared ff the line.
Jermain Defoe was right to go
Andre Villas-Boas is a systems manager and here he needed a player like Emmanuel Adebayor in the game due to Wigan’s approach crowding out Defoe. The striker’s usual game of playing on the shoulder was negated by three central defenders, exposing his inability to drop off between the lines.
Spurs were playing to get the ball wide and cross, which again didn’t favour the diminutive striker and Clint Dempsey is a much better player in the air. The American’s movement to drop off through the formation and heading ability were the primary factors why he stayed on the field.
As a result, Spurs didn’t win the game, but were better in the final third and getting more shots at goal after the change.
Emmanuel Adebayor still looked rusty from his time out, but his movement and ability to hold the ball up gave us a glimpse of what we’ve been missing.
To replace Jermain Defoe in this match was the right call for the benefit of the team. Andre Villas-Boas will never put one individual above what is right for the side and Jermain Defoe needs to understand that.