It wasn’t a banner day for the U.S. international. For much of the first half, he was a non-factor. In the second, seemingly liberated from a role that asked him to play along Newcastle’s defense, Clint Dempsey was more influential, the versatile Tottenham attacker dropping back from his No.9’s post to take possession from deep midfield. On a day when new import Lewis Holtby failed to have his expected impact, it was a needed contribution.
But Dempsey’s utility wasn’t so much in how he played as in what he was able to play. With Jermaine Defoe injured and Emmanuel Adebayor having just returned from Africa Cup of Nations, Dempsey’s ability to push forward and play an in-a-pinch No. 9 came in handy. As we’ve discussed when addressing Dempsey’s uncertain role with Spurs, the one advantage “Deuce” has on his peers is flexibility. He may not be part of André Villas-Boas’s first choice XI, but his ability to step into any attacking role means he won’t lack for playing time.
On Saturday, despite his mid-week travel to Central America, Dempsey went the full 90 (or 99, as was the case on Saturday). That was largely a function of Spurs’ depleted striker resources, but it was still telling that when Villas-Boas went for Adebayor, he didn’t pull Dempsey. He elected to keep Deuce on and use his versatility to change the formation from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2. Holtby came off instead.
That choice may also tell us something new about Spurs’ depth chart. Whereas it was initially thought the acquisition of Holtby might cloud Dempsey’s picture, the former Schalke midfielder seems to be made Sigurdsson redundant. When Defoe’s out, Dempsey remains the first option off the bench (as the team goes 4-2-3-1). Instead of competing with Sigurdsson, he becomes a change for a default XI that includes Holtby.
We’ll have to see if Villas-Boas’s Saturday choices become long-term strategy. Until then, this is all speculation, but encouragingly for Dempsey, most scenarios see him maintaining much of his playing time. That’s something that was far less certain when Spurs switched to a 4-4-2 a few months ago.