Where does Clint Dempsey fit in at Spurs?

Clint Dempsey arrived at Spurs during the final few hours of the transfer window in a £6million deal from Fulham.

The American was one of the standout midfielders in the Premier League last term, netting 17 times for the Cottagers.

He started on the left side of midfield for Fulham and also upfront when they were short of strikers. But with Gareth Bale firmly occupying the left-sided role and Emmanuel Adebayor looking the most likely starter up top, just where does Clint Dempsey fit in for Spurs?

How Fulham used Clint Dempsey on the left

Clint Dempsey played the majority of last season on the left side of Martin Jol’s midfield in a 4-4-1-1 formation.

His role was very much to get up and support the striker, rather than to be a natural winger. Jol had John Arne Riise to do this and whilst the Norwegian would overlap looking to provide service from the left, Dempsey would cut in-field looking to get in the box.

We can see just how Clint Dempsey was operating from his left-sided midfield position if we look at a couple of his performances with Stats Zone.

In Fulham’s home match with Wolves, we can see how Dempsey spends very little time out on the left. He takes a few passes from John Arne Riise from the left-full back position as the Norwegian looks to overlap. He then receives the majority of his passes down the central channel as he works one-twos in to the box. Both of his goals in the game come from passes down the middle, highlighted by the yellow lines.


Clint Demspey passes received Fulham vs Wolves.

If we also look at Fulham’s match with Liverpool we can also see the same thing happening. Clint Dempsey receives a few passes from his starting position out on the left from John Arne Riise in the left full back slot. He then moves to the middle up field, operating in a narrow corridor.


Clint Dempsey passes received Fulham vs Liverpool.

How Clint Dempsey operates up front

When Fulham had a bit of a striking crisis due to injuries to Pogrebnyak, Johnson and Zamora, Clint Dempsey was thrust in to a centre forward role.

When upfront, his movement is to drop shallow on the right rather than the left to link up with Damien Duff. Further up the pitch he moves back to the middle due to his centre-forward role.

We can see this through the use of Stats Zone in a couple of the matches where he started up front for Fulham last season.

In Fulham’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea, Clint Dempsey drops in on the right-hand side to take passes just over the halfway line. Further up the pitch and in to the box he receives passes back in the middle once more and scores from a corner, highlighted by the yellow line.


Clint Dempsey passes received Fulham vs Chelsea.

In Fulham’s match with Bolton a few days earlier, we can see a similar thing happening. Clint Dempsey again drops in on the right side of the formation in the build-up play, before moving back in to a more central role further up the park. He scores again, this time from a Damien Duff cross as Fulham win 3-0.


Clint Dempsey passes received Bolton vs Fulham.

The movement of Clint Dempsey has changed with his new position from moving from the left flank in to the centre, to dropping in on the right side before moving back to the centre.

Dempsey’s ability to drop in on the right before moving centrally is something Andre Villas-Boas can utilise effectively in his preferred 4-3-3 formation.

AVB and 4-3-3

Andre Villas-Boas has so far played a 4-2-3-1 system during his time in charge at Spurs.

It’s no secret that his preferred formation is 4-3-3 but he hasn’t so far had the players to play it.

But how does his system work?

It starts at the back with an agile goalkeeper who is able to come off his line and clear up anything over the top, or through balls, due to the high defensive line.

Next there is a back four, where the full backs are pushing up looking to help with the attack and then press the opposition when the ball is lost.

Andre Villas-Boas used Alvaro Pereira and Cristian Sapunaru at Porto to do this and went with the highly mobile pair of Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa at Chelsea. The reason he preferred Bosingwa to the better defensive player in Ivanovic, was that the Portuguese player was able to cover the ground and cross. Full backs that can cross are important in this system and we have two good ones in Walker and Assou-Ekotto.

In midfield, the system uses three central players who operate at different levels.

First of all there is a defensive ball winner, who can drop in and help the centre backs avoid a 2v2 situation if the ball is lost and the full backs are caught up field.

Secondly, there is a playmaker whose job it is to distribute the ball wide, to the central number nine and the advanced midfielder.

Thirdly, there is the advanced midfielder who works through the inside right channel. His job is to create overloads with the attackers and also look to move in to the space vacated by the right forward.

The front three consist of a central number nine and two wider forwards.

The central striker is there to hold the ball up, create an outlet and then get in to the box to score goals. The other two forwards have different functions and AVB instructs one to go wide to stretch the play, whilst the other moves in to the middle looking to support the central striker.

At FC Porto he had Hulk on the right as the more natural player to cut in to the box to support the striker, with Silvestre Varela providing the width of a winger on the left.

At Chelsea he utilised Daniel Sturridge on the right, with Juan Mata on the left.

On both teams, the left-sided player of the three was more of a winger, whilst the right-sided player a more natural forward.

The formation would operate like this.


The 4-3-3 system of Andre Villas-Boas.

Where does Clint Dempsey fit in?

For Andre Villas-Boas to get his 4-3-3 system to work, the right-sided forward was a key area.

Whilst spending most of his time at Fulham playing in from the left and moving to the middle, Spurs already have Gareth Bale to play the left-sided forward’s role. Bale can naturally provide a lot more width than what Dempsey was demonstrating with Fulham, which is what’s required from this player.

In his play as a striker at Fulham though, Clint Dempsey has shown that he can work from the right side, and then move in-field further up the pitch. This is much in the way Andre Villas-Boas wanted Hulk to operate at Porto and Sturridge at Chelsea.

Spurs do already have Aaron Lennon, but although he has the high energy levels in order to press without the ball, he doesn’t possess the goal scoring ability required from this position. This player in AVB’s system is usually the second-scorer and Clint Dempsey, with his 17 Premier League goals last season, provides just that as well as a good engine to help with the pressing.

Andre Villas-Boas has dropped several hints that we could switch to 4-3-3 after the international break and this is how I could see the team lining up in a few matches time.


How Clint Dempsey could fit in to the Spurs line-up.

Hugo Lloris with his agility to come off his line and act as a ‘sweeper keeper,’ as well as his ability to play the ball, will be starting in goal.

In the back four we already have the foundation for the athletic full backs that can get up the field and provide crosses, whilst helping press the opposition. Kyle Walker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto are perfect for this role.

In midfield, Sandro will get the start as the defensive player whilst Scott Parker is out injured. He could continue to hold this role due to his height and aerial ability, which make him more of a candidate to drop in to defence to avoid 2v2 situations.

Moussa Dembele will be the playmaker and distributor. The Belgian is a very good give-and-go passer, completing 89% of his passes last season, most of which are short and on-point. You can read my full break down on what we can expect from Moussa Dembele here.

When analysing what Gylfi Sigurdsson brings to Spurs, we saw how he likes to operate down the inside-right channel and how he creates shots and goals from there. He is the perfect candidate for the advanced midfielder role.

Up front, Emmanuel Adebayor has all the necessary tools to play the central striker. Gareth Bale is the natural wide-man to play down the left, whilst Clint Dempsey has shown he can move in from the right when playing for Fulham.

These front three could create quite a potent attacking force with the potential for plenty of goals. They would be backed up by Gylfi Sigurdsson who has shown he can score whilst at Swansea.

Clint Dempsey may have been a last minute signing on transfer deadline day, but he could well be the final piece to complete AVB’s 4-3-3.

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5 Responses to Where does Clint Dempsey fit in at Spurs?

  1. Scott T. 5th September 2012 at 4:33 am #

    Great article. I actually drew up the same formation myself just earlier, along with some other ideas. I agree with your point on Dempsey taking the RF position over Lennon, as Lennon isn’t the most consistent goal scoring threat. Only change I would make is have Dawson in the place of Gallas.

    Do you suppose AVB will try to bring on younger players such as Townsend, Falque, or Ceballos during the season? I thought Harry Kane would have been best stayed put to learn from Ade and make some appearances, but still getting premier league matches with Norwich I suppose.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 5th September 2012 at 1:28 pm #

      I can see him playing them in some of the Europa League and Capital One Cup games as the squad will need rotation, too many minutes being logged by the same guys was one of the reasons our form tailed off last season. Kane would have been good to keep this season, although after getting experience in the Championship last year, if he can get a few games at a higher level with Norwich, it’ll benefit us in the long run which is what AVB’s project is all about.

  2. Chadwicks 5th September 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    Great article! I think you explained AVB’s system very well and have made a reasonable guess at where the tactics are headed. Your projected XI is very strong and I think there is a good chance we will see that in the near future.

    My only comment is Dempsey really doesn’t fancy the right side but if he is allowed to cut inside like AVB has done in the past from the right forward I think he will make people forget about Vdv very quickly.

  3. Pete 5th September 2012 at 2:03 pm #

    Great article and I entirely agree.

    It was the WBA game earlier this season that showed up the floor Lennon has in this system. Everytime Bale crossed from the left, he was outside his full back, not attacking the Cross. Something Dempsey will do to devistating effect. Goes without say also, Walker is going to shine having the space to run into an right inside running forward leaves.

    Scott commented on Kane… Now we have Dempsey, I would have quite liked to see Kane develope and learn from him. I don’t see him as a number nine, but see him as more of a number ten, like he showed at Millwall. What do you think? Perhaps at the moment Falque will be a dempsey kind of understudy.

    I would like to see Townsend more tbh, as an understudy for Bale. I did not see much of him at Birmingham last season but I understand he got a lot of game time under Hughton. Do you think he can cut it?

    Would also love to see Carol come in to the frame as an understudy to Siggy… although, I can also see Jenas filling in there too… don’t shoot me!!!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 5th September 2012 at 3:08 pm #

      I’d like to see Kane develop some more before working out how he would fit best in to the team. Taking a step up from Millwall last season to logging some Premiership minutes with Norwich ths year is an important step in his development. But yes i could see him working well as a number ten to a natural number nine like Grant Holt.