Clint Dempsey is not the flavour of the month with many Spurs fans right now. A season on from tonking in 17 Premier League goals for Fulham, the American was part of many a fantasy team and looked a steal at £6 million.
Fast-forward eleven games in to this Premier League season and Dempsey appears to be floundering in a bigger pond to that which he dominated at Craven Cottage.
Two goals so far in the Premier League isn’t the greatest return from a player who has scored 36 in England’s top flight in the last three seasons. So what is going on with Clint Dempsey and why aren’t we seeing the gung-ho Texan from Craven Cottage in a Spurs shirt?
Clint Dempsey at Fulham
Clint Dempsey had his best season in the Premier League under Martin Jol at Fulham. The American started most matches on the left side of midfield in Jol’s 4-4-1-1 formation.
Despite being on the left, his role was to get up and support the two forwards rather than to provide natural width.
Dempsey would work his way in to the box to create 3 v 2 situations against central defenders, by arriving late behind the forwards. His movement inside allowed John Arne Riise to overlap down the wing and provide ammunition from the left side. Down the right, Damien Duff played as a natural winger, supported by full back Aaron Hughes or Stephen Kelly.
If we take a look at a couple of Dempsey’s games with Fulham last season on Stats Zone, we can see how his game worked.
In the Cottagers’ home match with Wolves, Clint Dempsey spends very little time on the left, taking a few passes from Riise across the halfway line. Once in opposition territory, he receives the ball straight down the middle, which includes two passes for goals. His movement is very vertical and aggressive in nature as he overloads the box behind Andrew Johnson playing off Pavel Pogrebnyak.
If we also look at Fulham’s match with Liverpool, we can see something similar going on.
Clint Dempsey again receives some passes from Riise just over the halfway line on the left. Further up the field, he moves in to the centre to create overloads behind Bobby Zamora and Moussa Dembele who is playing as a number ten in the hole. Once again his movement is very vertical up the pitch and aggressive in nature.
Clint Dempsey also played as a central striker after Fulham had sold Bobby Zamora, when Andrew Johnson and subsequently Pavel Pogrebnyak were out injured.
When operating up top, Dempsey played with a similar vertical aggressive movement to when he was in midfield. However, starting from a higher position, he would drop in on the right hand side, before driving in to central areas in the final third.
When Fulham played Bolton, he receives the ball by coming deeper on the right hand side of the formation this time in the build-up play. Higher up in opposition territory he moves back to the centre and receives a number of passes as he goes straight down the middle, including one for his goal.
A few days later, Fulham drew with Chelsea and again he gains possession of the ball just over halfway by dropping in on the right hand side. Further up the field, he moves back in to a very central area.
Despite the fact that he has switched positions, the vertical nature of his game is still apparent. He works from the left in to the centre when in midfield and from the right in to the centre when used up top as a striker.
Clint Dempsey for Spurs
Clint Dempsey has struggled at Spurs so far to maintain the goal scoring form he displayed at Fulham.
He has mainly been deployed in an advanced midfield role behind Jermain Defoe and for the first time with Emmanuel Adebayor against Man City.
If we take a look at the Man City match, we can see how Dempsey’s direct, vertical game to get up the pitch at Fulham, has become more of a horizontal one across the park for Spurs.
Playing in a more central role where he is a linkman between the midfield and central striker, he receives the ball right across the width of the pitch this time. He doesn’t get up the field, nor receive the ball in the box, as his movement is more side-to-side than up the pitch.
In the match prior with Wigan, Clint Dempsey naturally sees more of the ball than against Man City. Where he receives possession is again more horizontal across the pitch, rather than vertical up it.
He drops in much deeper than he was at Fulham to receive the ball on both sides of the field in our half, areas where he is not as effective. Once across halfway, he receives the ball in a wider zone than he was at Fulham, as he gets it in the inside left and right channels, rather than straight down the middle.
Against Southampton and Chelsea, we again see Dempsey covering more of the pitch, as he receives passes horizontally across it, rather than vertically up it. He only gets the ball once in the opposition penalty area at Southampton and not at all against Chelsea.
Why we need to deploy Clint Dempsey correctly
Moving to a new club on transfer deadline day is never easy to integrate a player in to the team with the season already underway.
Clint Dempsey was a goalscorer for Fulham, netting 36 times in the last three Premier League seasons. He was the focus of the team and his movement was much more aggressive.
When playing on the left of midfield, he looked to get vertically up the park to arrive in the box in a very central area to create 3 v 2 situations against the opposition centre backs. On the occasions he played up front as a striker, he would drop in on the right to link the play; then look to get back to central areas once the ball had moved forward.
Now at Spurs, his role has changed to playing off of just one striker in an advanced midfielder role.
He is dropping a lot deeper to receive possession in our half of the field and on both sides of the formation. Once the ball is in the opposition half, he still has to play horizontally across the field, rather than vertically up it.
This is stretching him from side-to-side and making him less focussed on making forward runs like he was for Fulham. Last season he was getting a shot away from inside the penalty area every 41 minutes on pitch, this season that has fallen to every 102 mins.
Clint Dempsey is no longer the focus of his team offensively, as Spurs have many more weapons going forward than Fulham. It would appear from our games so far this season though, that we are not deploying this particular weapon in the correct fashion in order to gain maximum benefit from it.
Clint Dempsey needs to be playing in a vertical aggressive manner moving forward up the pitch, rather than in a horizontal one across it.
Yeah well said. He’s not a bad player, but just (at times) looks lost playing centrally behind a striker. While I think he does a good job in shielding our midfield & back four, he needs to be able to offer a threat otherwise he’ll be considered a failure.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Yes, he seems to be operating within AVB’s system, having to play a more disciplined and defined role. At Fulham, the team was a bit more focussed on getting him forward from deeper so he would arrive later in the box and that is where i belive lies the problem. It’ll be interesting to see how he plays if given a run with a more mobile striker in Adebayor rather than one who plays on the shoulder in Defoe.
Personally, I believe that Dempseys Horizontal movement is purely down to our lack of creative breadth in central midfield. In modric we had a box to box CM whose responsibility was to recycle possession, along with channeling the ball out to the wide players. Mods worked this role superbly, which freed VDV to take up positions closer to our lone striker. At times VDV was almost playing as a inadvertent striker in a unorthodox 4-4-2, due to modrics ability he rarely needed to drop deep or into the wide channels to receive the ball. Simply put i believe until we buy an out and out creative CM preferably two, then Sigurdsson/Dempsey won’t have the licence to take up vertical positions further up the field, which in my opinion is ruining our attacking shape, and detrimentally is the sole reason as to why Defoe often seems isolated throughout large chunks of the game.
Spurs Fanatic - Mark says
Modric and VDV were more creative players, but from reading various comments from Huddlestone and VDV this season, they had a much more licence to just go and play under Harry Redknapp. Both players commented on how AVB is a much more rigid coach from what he wants: “He’s very organised. A lot of his sessions are on a quite rigid team shape whereas maybe under previous regimes the initiative was given to players to express themselves.” (Hudd)