It’s fair to say that we’ve not seen the best of Clint Dempsey at Spurs yet this season. The American was a beast last year for Fulham, scoring 17 times in the Premier League, making him the highest goal-scoring midfielder.
At Spurs it’s been a different story and I’ve written before about why we need to deploy Clint Dempsey correctly. Last season, the Cottagers started him from the left side, allowing him to cut in from the wing, arriving late in the penalty area coming on to the ball.
For Tottenham, he is already starting in an advanced position in the centre and so is playing more with his back to goal. Up until Sunday’s game with West Ham, he had struggled, but his performance against the Hammers suggested that he is starting to come to terms with his new role.
Clint Dempsey struggles
Prior to the detonation of West Ham at White Hart Lane, our previous home Premier League match with Wigan saw us struggle.
Clint Dempsey also had a disappointing afternoon and if we look at where he receives the ball on Stats Zone, we can see that he drops deep in our half of the field. Once over halfway, the locations of where he picks up possession become increasingly narrow the further up the field he gets. This forms a closed triangle shape which is negative for a number ten and creative player.
If we break down the passes that he plays as well, we can see that when Clint Dempsey plays the ball forward, he is in deeper, wider areas of the pitch. When he plays it backwards he is in more central locations, indicating that he has his back to goal.
Of his 26 passes in the match, only 12 (46%) are forwards. This really stifles the creativity of the team by having a player a operating in the number ten role who is failing to make incisive passes.
Clint Dempsey vs West Ham
Against West Ham on Sunday, Clint Dempsey started to show some signs that he is coming to terms with the role.
If we look at where he receives the ball against the Hammers, we can see that the triangle from the Wigan game is reversed to become open. Dempsey now picks up the ball in central locations when deeper in our half, but as he crosses halfway, he is available to receive possession right across the whole field.
He now not only gets the ball in central locations, but also towards the flanks as well, as he supports the wide forwards more.
His movement makes him more difficult to mark, which is how he excelled at Fulham by moving forward from a deeper starting position.
It also affords him more space, so he can pass up the pitch, rather than being sat in the centre and having to make backwards passes, as he is easier for defenders to mark.
If we break down his passes this time, we can see that his forward passing now originates through the centre. His increased lateral movement means he now has the space to move the ball wide or through the channels in the middle. Incisive passing through the centre created Gareth Bale’s goal and set Aaron Lennon free to lay on the third for Jermain Defoe.
Of his 44 passes in the match, 23 (52%) are now forwards, whereas his backwards passes are now out on the flanks.
Is Clint Dempsey finally becoming real in his new role?
It’s a bit too early to say that Clint Dempsey is going to have the same impact as he did last year for Fulham, but the signs from the weekend are encouraging.
Transferring late on deadline day and without a pre-season for either Spurs or the Cottagers, Clint Dempsey is still getting acclimatised to his new position and team mates.
His role now has him starting further up the pitch and he has struggled with having to play in an advanced position with his back to goal. More traditional number tens are used to this and are able to counter through their movement, both horizontally and laterally between the lines. Clint Dempsey is more of a marauding forward, working his way up the pitch from deeper and he has struggled to come to terms with what is now required.
From the West Ham game, the signs were there that he might well be starting to understand that from a higher starting position, he has to increase his lateral movement. This is obviously something that he has been working on, as he spoke about finding his feet in this new role after the match.
“I’ve been frustrated with not really getting on the ball, getting into the game and impacting games. I was able to give a bit more of an angle and drive with the ball a little bit more, and take some more shots and try to create chances for other people.”
That is something he did accomplish, with five shots in the match, including a rasping drive that came back off the crossbar. He also played a major role in springing Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon for our second and third goals.
Will he be able to keep it up, and against better teams?
I’m still a believer that Clint Dempsey needs to be deployed from a wider starting position, as he is not the archetypal number ten that the role requires. I would prefer to see an Isco, Moutinho or Willian in there; players who have a greater understanding of how to play as a trequartista. Until January though, there are relatively few options for Andre Villas-Boas.
The West Ham game did indicate that there could be some promising signs ahead for Clint Dempsey and that he is coming to terms with his new role.