With Emmanuel Adebayor away with Togo, Clint Dempsey stepped back in to the fold against Man Utd, his first Premier League start for Spurs since mid-December.
The American didn’t disappoint, hitting the target with more shots than any other Spurs player, including being in the right place to slot home the equaliser. Dempsey’s position was key to him getting the goal, providing a perfect passing lane for Aaron Lennon to cut the ball back to him.
Back in November I wrote a post on how ‘Clint Dempsey was finally becoming real in his new role’ behind a central striker. Back then; the American was struggling with two things in adapting to playing off Jermain Defoe.
Firstly, he was not providing enough lateral movement, as the further up the pitch he went, the more centrally he wanted to receive the ball. Secondly, he wasn’t coping with having his back to goal. Dempsey is very much a player who likes to come on to the ball; as a result, he was passing backwards a lot in these central areas.
The match, and indeed the goal against Man Utd, indicated that Dempsey is showing signs of improving his lateral movement. However, it also highlighted that he needs to still work on his passing.
Clint Dempsey moves against Man Utd
With Gareth Bale receiving a fair amount of attention from Rafael, Phil Jones and Tom Cleverley; Aaron Lennon and Clint Dempsey had a chance to influence the game. Lennon was a thorn in Patrice Evra’s side all match, but Clint Dempsey also did plenty of good work prior to scoring.
The American showed good of lateral movement to help link the play. With Spurs going down the left 40% of the time (WhoScored.com), Dempsey received most of his passes from Gareth Bale, as the play favoured this side. That didn’t stop him also getting out to the right to receive the ball from Aaron Lennon. This was despite the fact the Spurs only attacked down Lennon’s side 28% of the time.
With Man Utd sitting so deep to stop us using our speed in behind, Clint Dempsey still did a good job getting in to the box. The American was a constant pest in and around the area, slipping through only to be denied by David de Gea, before getting free to place home his goal.
Clint Dempsey passing
Whereas Clint Dempsey showed some good movement like he is learning to play as a number 10, his passing still left a lot to be desired.
Earlier in the season he was passing the ball backwards, as he struggled with his back to goal. Against the Red Devils, he was attempting to make forward passes, but they were failing to find their targets. Dempsey completed just 59% of his 32 attempted passes during the game, but the interesting point continues to be how and where these passes were played.
When playing the ball backwards, he completed an excellent 10 of 11 passes (91%). Before, he was playing these balls in central areas, but now he is playing much shorter layoffs across the pitch, which is a positive sign.
Where he fell down was with his forward passing. Here, he completed just 6 of 15 efforts (40%), but at least he was trying to play these forward balls in central areas this time. Before Christmas, he was laying these passes backwards, as he struggled with his back to goal.
This is still a concern though, as Clint Dempsey has never been renowned for his goal creation and his ability to play creative passes.
Continuing to work
Back in November, Clint Dempsey was very much struggling to come to terms with his new role in the centre of the pitch. From his time at Fulham, he was used to coming inside from a midfield position and arriving late in the box. He preferred coming on to the ball, rather than playing with his back to goal.
Since coming to Spurs, he has had to adapt his game with Gareth Bale playing the left forward role in a 4-3-3. Clint Dempsey spoke about this in a recent interview on finding his feet in his new role.
“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’s going to allow you to do that. I’m starting to do a better job in that respect.”
And Dempsey does seem to be doing just that. His movement was greatly improved in the Man Utd match, as he covered the width of the pitch, looking to get involved.
“It’s about knowing when to come close to them to try to help with the play, and when to give them space to take their man on and try to get in the box and get on the end of their crosses.”
Dempsey certainly does seem to be learning this too; linking the play much better, then getting on the end of the most telling cross of all from Aaron Lennon.
His passing, especially vertically up the pitch, does still need to be worked on and this is a major part of the play for any number ten.
Clint Dempsey is certainly not the solution in this role, but until the arrival of Lewis Holtby, his goal scoring is helping the team with Defoe and Adebayor struggling.