Gareth Bale’s hamstring strain was a sight that no Spurs fan wanted to see. The Welshman has been flying in recent weeks, netting goals against Arsenal, West Ham and Liverpool. As Bale limped off, Gylfi Sigurdsson came on and Spurs scored twice, with the Icelander, as well as Clint Dempsey, teeing up Jermain Defoe.
Sigurdsson played through the middle, whilst Dempsey moved in to Bale’s position on the left, both more natural roles for these two players.
Both Gylfi Sigurdsson and Clint Dempsey have struggled to impress so far, but does the injury to Gareth Bale provide both with a chance to get their season back on track?
Clint Dempsey against Fulham
Clint Dempsey has been mainly used in an advanced midfield role behind the striker and he seemed to be coming to terms with the position in our 3-1 win over West Ham.
The American is not used to playing with his back to goal and starting higher up the pitch than he was at Fulham. In the article ‘Clint Dempsey finally becoming real in new role?’ I looked at how he was playing increasingly narrow the further up the field he went this season. He finally seemed to be playing with increased lateral movement against West Ham, which is what is required from a number ten. As a result, he got more shots and created more chances against the Hammers.
Against Fulham we were back to seeing that funnelling again when he was operating in the advanced midfield role up until the 62nd minute. Dempsey was moving wide in deeper areas, but playing too centrally in advanced positions, not stretching the defence.
After Gareth Bale went off and Gylfi Sigurdsson came on, Clint Dempsey moved out to his more accustomed left sided position. This is more natural for him, as at Fulham he would start out wide, then work his way towards the penalty area so he would be coming on to the ball in the box.
Although he didn’t receive possession as high up the pitch as he was with Fulham, Dempsey was receiving the ball wide and moving inside, but now playing through balls. He attempted four in the 28 minutes after he moved to the left, including the one to create the third goal for Jermain Defoe.
Gylfi Sigurdsson gets in on the action
Gylfi Sigurdsson hasn’t quite settled in at Spurs like he would have hoped after his switch in the summer. Last term we saw the Icelander trawl the inside right channel for Swansea, scoring goals and generating chances as he looked a world-beater.
This season has seen him complete 90 minutes only once in the Premier League, which coincidentally was his last start at home to Chelsea back in mid-October.
Sigurdsson hasn’t really had the chance to play with Moussa Dembele and Sandro so far this season, except in his 72 minutes at Reading which was arguably his best game.
The Icelandic international received the ball high up right across the pitch, which is something we’ve seen Dempsey do only on fleeting occasions this season. This allowed him to play penetrating passes in to the penalty area, including one which Aaron Lennon cutback for Jermain Defoe to open the scoring.
Gylfi Sigurdsson also took four shots in that match and he should have scored when Defoe rounded the goalkeeper and the Icelander’s shot was blocked on the line.
Against Fulham at the weekend, Sigurdsson received the ball 9 times in the 28 minutes he was on pitch. In creating our second goal, he showed signs that his confidence was returning, as his step over left Senderos standing and he squared for Defoe to score.
More natural positions?
Due to the fact that Andre Villas-Boas has given Clint Dempsey the starts in the advanced midfield role, Gylfi Sigurdsson’s playing time has suffered. He’s also been moved out to the left, or played in a deeper midfield position when he has been afforded playing time, most notably against Chelsea and Wigan recently.
The injury to Gareth Bale is not ideal, but the 28 minutes we were without the Welshman on Saturday allowed both to play in their more natural roles.
Clint Dempsey looked much happier working in from the left and actually became more of an incisive passer. This is something he has shown more of in our last few games with West Ham and Liverpool.
Gylfi Sigurdsson seemed more at home in the centre and showed shades of last season, as he carved out the chance for Defoe to make it 2-0. The Icelander had his best game for us against Reading and teaming up with Sandro and Moussa Dembele for more than a few minutes since that match, showed more promising signs here.
Gareth Bale certainly won’t be replaced, but both Gylfi Sigurdsson and Clint Dempsey will have the chance to impress in their more natural roles.