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It’s time to accept Jermain Defoe can play up front on his own

So, is this Jermain Defoe's big season at Tottenham Hotspur, and can he play as a lone-striker after all?

On Sunday against QPR Jermain Defoe bagged his 199-career goal, not bad for a player who in recent seasons has found it difficult to make the Spurs starting line-up.

But, despite his blistering start to the season many still believe it is only a matter of time before Emmanuel Adebayor replaces him.

Defoe’s major problem is the false perception that he is a striker who can’t really play on his own up front and needs a partner to succeed.

His problem is partly due to the period in which he broke into first team football; the early 2000s when English teams typically played 4-4-2. The system, which dominated Premier League football for so long has now been replaced by 4-3-3 as the most fashionable formation.

Defoe is often characterised as a product of 4-4-2 and therefore faces a battle to convince people that he can play in the current popular system.

This misconception survives even when Defoe succeeds, as he has done this season, scoring goals and playing well. It draws on the prejudice that exists against strikers of a small stature playing alone up front and uses the fact he has twice formed a prolific combination with Peter Crouch (at Portsmouth and Spurs), to supposedly provides the evidence that he needs a partner with additional physical presence to supplement his less imposing physique.

As he scored his fourth goal in five games Jonathan Pearce’s commentary for Match of the Day 2 focused on Spur’s switch to 4-4-2; “He’s so much better when someone’s up there with him.” Defoe’s three other goals this season have all come when he has played on his own in a 4-3-3 formation, a point that Pearce like many others would prefer to ignore in favour of a popular cliché.

Sure, Defoe’s main strength isn’t playing with his back to goal but neither is it Luis Suarez or Carlos Tevez’s and few argue that they cannot lead the line alone. The assumed difference being that a small English striker is always less flexible than his continental counterparts.

Perhaps because Andre Villas-Boas has come into the Tottenham job without these preconceptions Defoe has finally been given the chance to prove that he can play the role.

If Defoe broke through now would he have been encouraged to play as an out and out striker? It’s unlikely; the chances are he would be pushed out into a wide position.

As we have seen with both Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain, in England small strikers are asked frequently to play in wide areas. But the only chance of this changing and an English David Villa or Sergio Agüero produced is if the misconceptions surrounding players like Defoe are destroyed.

image: © OliverN5

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