Two more good matches on the docket in the Premier League today, but I’ve chosen Tottenham vs. Manchester United, so we can take our first MOTW Review look at the top American outfield player in the EPL (apologies to Geoff Cameron, but he hasn’t made this a discussion yet). And what a match it was for Dempsey, whose late equalizer secured an important home point for Tottenham in their quest for Champions League football next season.
Match of the Week: Tottenham vs. Manchester United @ White Hart Lane
Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas lined his side up in a 4-5-1 with Dempsey in the attacking midfield/withdrawn striker role, which seems to be his preferred place in the team. The attacking midfield berth gives Dempsey the most freedom to roam the field, getting up in attack to support Jermaine Defoe, the lone striker, while also allowing him to drop deep to receive the ball, turn and run at central defenders or manufacture a space to get a shot away. While Deuce is actually a very well rounded player, the position also helps to mask some of his weaknesses; he is neither pacy nor bulky enough to operate upfront on his own for long stretches and doesn’t have the defensive chops to play as a holding midfielder.
Dempsey was able to take full advantage of the wide open match by finding space in behind the United midfield and in front of the defense, especially when the excellent Phil Jones ventured forward to join the attack for Manchester United. While he only passed at 61% accuracy, lowest of the outfield players among the Tottenham starting XI, he was often able to change the point of attack from one side of the field to the other, especially in advanced positions, which was critical with Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale hugging the touchline. When Tottenham had the ball in the attacking third, (which was often during the second half) Dempsey was constantly on the move, providing an option to switch the field when necessary, but getting himself into the box when the wingers were looking to pick someone out.
Deuce was also able to work David De Gea in the United goal, with 4 of his 5 shot hitting the target, tops on the team. Indeed, he was unlucky not to score earlier in the match when he made a run through the middle of the United penalty area, with the ball seeming to get caught underneath him as he went to strike, with the resulting effort parried away by De Gea.
His goal showed another side to his game, that of a poacher, often able to turn up at the right place at the right time. Benoit Assou-Ekotto picked up the ball on the left wing after a blocked shot and floated a hopeful ball to the back post where Steven Caulker was lurking. De Gea came and punched, but only as far as Lennon, who quickly controlled and cut the ball back to Dempsey. Dempsey’s first time finish slotted into the corner of the net. It was certainly a scrappy goal, but Dempsey’s followers from his Fulham days will know that Deuce can be a scrapper when need be.
The tally secured a deserved point for Tottenham who sit 4th in the table, only 4 points behind Chelsea. It also means Tottenham have taken 4 points off United this season, with Dempsey having also scored the match winner in the reverse fixture earlier in the season. Even more importantly, with 4 goals in his last 4 matches, Dempsey is impressing his manager at just the right time; Emmanuel Adebayor having recently departed London for the African Cup of Nations will open up more playing time for central attacking players in the coming month.