Who is the better fit for the forward role in Mauricio Pochettino’s system, Roberto Soldado or Emmanuel Adebayor?
In Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor, Mauricio Pochettino has two very different strikers from which to choose to fill the number nine position.
The Spaniard is a predator in the box, whereas the Togolese is a hold up man who can bring others in to play.
What Mauricio Pochettino requires
If you were following the series on Mauricio Pochettino’s system and philosophy, then you will know the attributes required from forward position. The Argentine coach needs his central striker to:
– Come short to take vertical passes out of defence and hit runners going past him.
– Work the channels.
– Hold the ball up.
– Release valve for any long balls cleared from defenders under pressure.
– When the ball goes wide, get in the box to receive crosses.
Rickie Lambert did this very effectively for him at Southampton. Lambert could be forgiven for being thought of as a typically big, aerially strong English number nine. However, Mauricio Pochettino used him to take advantage of his excellent movement and range of passing, as well as his ability to get on the end of crosses.
Lambert was not quick over the ground, but he didn’t need to be. His intelligent moves dragged defenders out and he was able to find faster players running past in to the space.
A great example is here, where he comes short to get on the ball in midfield, trapping Hull defender Paul McShane in two minds as to whether to go or stay. This leaves him in no man’s land and allows Adam Lallana to race in to the space behind. Lambert puts him in on goal with a perfectly weighted through ball.
Lambert in the above image is in the inside left channel, but his ability to work the channels on each side of the pitch is another trait Pochettino requires.
The centre forward rarely receives the ball in the middle of the pitch until up in the final third. This is also the sign of a good striker, one who moves away from central defenders, giving them a choice to make of whether to track him – as can be seen in the McShane example.
If we look at Southampton’s Premier League match with Fulham, we can see a lot of this going on.
Lambert not only receives the ball from longer passes delivered from the goalkeeper and defenders, but he is also heavily involved in the middle third. He comes deep in to midfield and works both sides of the pitch, only appearing in the centre in the final third to get on the end of crosses.
His passes played in the game see him try to hit those who have moved past him, especially through the inside right channel of the penalty area.
A great example of this passing to those who have run by him came at White Hart Lane. Here we saw him feed in Adam Lallana to get Saints second goal in the game.
This is what Mauricio Pochettino is looking for from his central striker. He has to possess movement, be strong enough to hold it up, have a good range of passing, plus the ability to finish in the box when the ball goes wide to be crossed.
Emmanuel Adebayor possesses a lot of attributes for this role and would seem to be an excellent option for Mauricio Pochettino.
He is big, strong and can hold the ball up when it is cleared or played out from defence. His range of movement is probably one of the most underrated parts of his game and he has the ability to pick out teammates with a pass.
If we look at an Adebayor passing chart from our game with Fulham last season, we can see how he drifts out wide in order to get involved in the play. This is similar to how Pochettino used Rickie Lambert at Southampton, as Adebayor drops deep, even in to his own half.
The one problem for Emmanuel Adebayor, as has often been the case for him at Spurs and we can see from the passing chart, is that he can struggle to get in the box. I’ve written about this before and it continues to be an issue for him.
Adebayor loves to be involved with the play and spends much of his time outside the penalty area seeking to get touches of the ball. This can see him struggle to get in the box, which is where the majority of his goals come from. All bar one of his 33 Premier League goals for Spurs have been from inside the penalty area.
Mauricio Pochettino does need his striker to drop off and be a passing link-man and Adebayor is perfect at this. His 20 assists in three seasons at Spurs are testament that he can pass the ball, but Mauricio Pochettino also requires his striker to get in the box.
The Togolese front man is dangerous on crosses in the air with his height, but also his long legs give him excellent range on the floor. Adebayor will just need to make more effort to be more direct and purposeful in his runs to be in the penalty area more often.
Roberto Soldado is sort of the inverse of Emmanuel Adebayor in that he is a penalty box striker rather than a hold-up and be involved with the play man.
Soldado can receive and hold up the play well to a degree. By that I mean that he is not strong in the air, but is very good when the ball is played in to his feet or chest. We’ve seen some very nice layoffs and approach work from him in this respect so far at Spurs.
One of the most underrated aspects of his game is his range of passing. Roberto Soldado was required to be a layoff passer for AVB. Under Tim Sherwood we saw him play a great number of through balls and accurate crosses.
Soldado built his reputation in Spain as being a finisher, someone who came alive in the penalty area and was deadly. He would often strike the ball first time to finish, giving the keeper minimal reaction time. Andre Villas-Boas bought him to be used in this way.
For the Portuguese coach, we saw him use Soldado in a similar manner to what Mauricio Pochettino wants, just with a couple of differences.
Firstly, AVB wanted his striker to play much higher up, whereas our new coach likes his centre forward to come more towards the ball.
Secondly, AVB wanted to play through balls along the ground for his forward to run on to. He also coached us to get the ball in-behind the opposition full backs so we would play shorter crosses, often along the floor, or pull the ball back. This was done to take advantage of Soldado’s predatory penalty box instincts.
If we go back to the first Premier League game of last season, we can see how Roberto Soldado fulfilled the role.
We can see, as Pochettino wants, how he drifts out wide to receive the ball in the build-up to pull defenders around, as he often takes longer passes up to him. These were often over the ground rather than aerially, but crucially not through the centre of the pitch.
Up at the penalty area, we can see how he comes more in to the middle to receive shorter crosses. These came in from the left in this game. We can also see the balls played through the defence for him to run on to, especially through the right hand corner of the penalty area, one resulting in a shot through the six yard box.
While it shares some traits with Pochettino’s system, the problem for Roberto Soldado in AVB’s set up was two-fold.
Firstly, he was playing far too high up and this meant there was a disconnect between him and the midfield. Secondly, the build-up play was far too slow and this allowed defences to get set against us.
It was no surprise that Soldado’s goal to break his long scoring drought against Cardiff came off a fast break situation. The ball was moved forward quickly against a defence that was up for a corner. It was also apt that Adebayor, who likes to be involved in the build-up play and can make a pass, fed him the ball to score inside the penalty area.
In that game, where the two played together, we can see how they both fill the wide channels. But just how much more Adebayor floats around to be involved in the build-up play and how Roberto Soldado got many more touches in the box.
This kind of highlights both of their strengths, but also where they need to improve.
For Mauricio Pochettino, so far, Roberto Soldado seems to be making the transition to what the new coach wants. I can’t comment yet on Emmanuel Adebayor due to his brief and very rusty looking cameo against Celtic following his recovery from Malaria.
Soldado though, has been very good at coming short to receive the ball and finding the runners off him. We saw this against Toronto where he found Lamela for the first goal of the game.
He then found the Argentinean once more, as the two seem to have struck up quite a relationship.
In our next pre-season friendly against Chicago, Soldado came short to chip a delightful pass over the defence for Lennon to run on to, round the keeper and score.
Roberto Soldado has not only been coming short to feed others, but he’s also then been getting up in the box to fulfil his striking duties.
We saw this in our first pre-season game with Seattle as he won a penalty after being fouled running on to a through ball.
He also grabbed his first goal from open play against Celtic, with a finish after a nicely squared ball from Lewis Holtby.
These are all promising signs that he understands what the manager wants from him.
Roberto Soldado or Emmanuel Adebayor?
Emmanuel Adebayor would seem to be a good option with his size, strength and his love of being involved in the build-up play, along with his ability to pass. The Togolese will need to be more direct with his runs to get in the box.
Roberto Soldado is a penalty box striker who will thrive on service and is an under-rated passer. He often played too high up for AVB, but it appears that he is improving; testament to his three assists so far this pre-season. His struggles with finding the net and being a hold-up man when the ball is cleared forward aerially may be his only issues.
Whether it’s Roberto Soldado or Emmanuel Adebayor, Mauricio Pochettino does have quite a choice on his hands.