With the apparent hamstring injury suffered in the recent friendly with Switzerland, Rafael van der Vaart could again find himself missing in action for his club side. While the extent of the injury is not currently known, his absence from Holland’s next friendly against Germany is a cause for concern among the faithful at White Hart Lane. However, the addition of Emmanuel Adebayor to the roster may have provided the manager with a ready-made replacement for the Dutch talisman: Jermain Defoe.
Harry Redknapp has been quoted several times as saying that Jermaine and Rafa can not play in the same team, noting that he attempted this in the match against Arsenal and it only worked because they were ‘at home’. While the match result was 2-1 the right way, Redknapp made several defensive minded substitutions and Rafa again found a seat on the bench soon after the hour mark, making way for Sandro after 64′ when the match was tied 1-1. The following match, the 2-2 draw at St. James’, saw Defoe make a substitute appearance for Rafael Van der Vaart (64′). A week later it was Jermain Defoe for Rafael Van der Vaart (88′), as Rafa’s brace saw off Rovers. Seven days later Defoe failed to make it off of the bench, with Rafa playing 90′ in the 3-1 win over QPR. In the final match before the break it was once more Jermain Defoe for Rafael Van der Vaart (67′) as Defoe this time ensured all three points with his own 90′ strike to close scoring at 3-1.
While the scoring edge that Rafa brings to the side can not be overlooked, it is not the only part of his game that influences the Spurs attack. His presence in the center of the pitch presents a unique problem for defences as his positioning, coupled with the pace and skill of Gareth Bale on the left wing, create a dynamic attack which takes advantage of gaps in the defense. From the look of their recent passing form, it appears that Defoe should be able to slip into Rafa’s boots and provide a similar level of production – though his volume of touches and passes may be slightly lower. With Modric still fit to play in the center of midfield behind Defoe and distribute the ball to either flank, we can expect that Jermain will continue to attack directly, as the statistics indicate both he and van der Vaart prefer.
So far this season it is clear that van der Vaart has been more valuable, both overall and on a per minute basis as his 6 goal return leads the team. For Defoe’s part, he’s played well when given the opportunity and is joint second at the club with 4 goals in the EPL this term (Bale).
While his opportunities have been limited, playing just 441′ to Rafa’s 660′, Defoe has shown more class and looks comfortable on the ball. The arrival of Adebayor created a successful partnership intially with Defoe adding two goals and an assisting in Adebayor’s first two games with the club. Interestingly, Adebayor scored three goals in his first two matches with Spurs, but has not scored in the League since. Ade has contributed five assists in six subsequent fixtures and Tottenham have not lost in the EPL since his arrival, winning seven and drawing once. All four of Defoe’s goals have come since September 10th though he has earned more than 80′ only twice in that eight game span, three times having played 3′ or fewer.
It is clear from the addition of Adebayor that Redknapp was not happy with the play he was recieving from the diminutive England forward and a quick glance of Defoe’s numbers from last year tell’s the tale.
In the chart below we can see that Defoe had a difficult time linking with Rafa last season, with his numbers far off the pace that he had set in the 2009-10 season.
With both Defoe and Rafa in the team it was left to Rafa to make the most of the chances, with Jermain failing to forge a successful link-up. His chance conversion fell 50% and the result was just 4 goals in the Premier League last season. While his overall numbers appear close aside from the final chance conversion statistic, his minutes per shot on target significantly worse as well needing 64.34 minutes to land a shot on target a year ago vs. 54.61 the season previous.
The passing numbers for this season appear to bear out Harry’s assessment that Defoe can fill Rafa’s shoes and the limited anecdotal data we have this season confirms. Certainly we know the successful partnership that Adebayor and Defoe enjoyed in their first two games – Adebayor played 90′ in each, Defoe 88′ and 82′ while Rafa got 0′ and 45′ respectively – saw Spurs run out 2-0 and 4-0 winners over Wolves and Liverpool. Even if van der Vaart’s absence is to be a lengthy one it is possible he will not be sorely missed.