When one surveys Tottenham Hotspur’s current squad it is hard to identify many weaknesses, excepting of course the lack of a top quality centre-back to replace the brilliant, but injury-laden Ledley King and of a credible deputy for Emmanuel Adebayor. But one area of the team that does seem rife for improvement is the right of midfield, the position currently occupied by Aaron Lennon.
When Harry Redknapp first took over as Spurs manager, Lennon was one of the initial beneficiaries of his ‘arm round the shoulder’ approach, gaining confidence and finally showing the drive and determination required to make the best of his clear talent. He was willing to run at defenders at any given opportunity and worked hard to improve his delivery into the area when he did get into advanced positions.
Lennon was excellent as Spurs qualified for the Champions League with a fourth place finish in 2009/10, but has subsequently gone backwards, a string of niggling injuries seemingly draining away the confidence Redknapp had worked so hard to cultivate in his pint-sized winger. The superb run that led to Peter Crouch’s winner over Milan in the San Siro notwithstanding, last season was a disappointing one for the 24-year old and he has begun this campaign in similar fashion.
Just like Peter Taylor, who shone under the close tutelage of Malcolm Allison at Crystal Palace but then generally flattered to deceive when left more to his own devices at White Hart Lane, Lennon is a pure confidence player. With that evaporated, the flaws in his game have become all the more obvious, and can only prompt Spurs to start looking for potential replacements, especially so if they make it back into the Champions League next season.
Farfan The Man?
If one was to list Lennon’s deficiencies the first would surely be his lack of goal threat. Last season, with a misfiring forward line, Tottenham were heavily reliant on the goal scoring exploits of Rafael Van der Vaart, and with the likes of midfielders Luka Modric, Tom Huddlestone and Sandro far from prolific, needed goals to come from wide areas also. Gareth Bale chipped in with a respectable 11 in all competitions, but Lennon contributed just 3 over the course of the season.
Providing such a threat comes far more naturally to Schalke’s Peruvian winger Jefferson Farfan, surely one of more credible options out there if Spurs were to seek a replacement for Lennon.
Over the last three league seasons Lennon has scored 11 goals in 94 appearances, at a rate of a goal every 8.55 games. Farfan on the other hand, also in 94 appearances, has scored 22 goals, at a rate of a goal every 4.27 games. Farfan has also scored a goal every 3.23 games for the Peruvian national team, while Lennon is yet to score in the white of England.
A more powerful player, Farfan is a threat shooting from long to medium range, whereas Lennon’s efforts from outside the penalty area are often too weak to trouble the majority of goalkeepers.
Take Him On
Moving on to successful dribbles per match, and based solely on the 2010/11 season statistics, Lennon again comes up short against his Peruvian counterpart. Lennon averaged 2.1 successful dribbles per match, compared to Farfan’s 2.6 – not a huge difference granted, and this field is one of the Opta statistics which always seems the least indicative of reality from my experience of watching football – but a difference nevertheless.
I was unfortunately unable to get hold of a dribbles attempted figure for Lennon to compare to Farfan’s 5.3 per match, but from a purely qualitative viewpoint Farfan seems far more willing to take on his marker to try and make things happen. His Schalke team-mate Christian Fuchs recently described him as being ‘faster with the ball, than without it’. In contrast, Lennon far too frequently looks to cut inside or play the ball back to a supporting player rather than use his pace to go past a full-back, which is again something that comes down to confidence, or lack thereof.
Assists, Key Passes and Crosses
As we have seen, Farfan wins out over Lennon in offering an increased goal threat and in being more proactive, and successful, in taking on opposition players. But where Lennon has also come up short, in the last season at least, is against some of the Premier League’s best wide-men is in providing goals for his team-mates.
Last season Lennon managed a paltry 2 assists in the 25 matches he started, compared to the likes of Nani, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing, who managed 14, 10 and 7 respectively. Some of this was down to the poor finishing of Spurs’ strikers, but was also indicative of his general lack of cutting edge.
Farfan managed 5 assists in his 23 appearances out wide last season, and also produced more key passes per match (2.09 on average), than Lennon (1.89).
One area Lennon did trump Farfan in was the accuracy of his crosses – 29% in comparison to Farfan’s 24%. This is probably the one major flaw in Farfan’s game, especially visible in these statistics as Lennon himself is hardly renowned for the preciseness of his crosses.
The use of statistics can always be questioned, especially when comparing two players plying their trade in different leagues, but in this case they have a use in illustrating for those who haven’t seen Farfan in action the improvement he could offer over Lennon.
If Tottenham are looking for a more dynamic, powerful threat from the right, a player who can score goals but also create them then Farfan could be just their man. Two years Lennon’s senior, he has proved himself at PSV Eindhoven and now Schalke and should Spurs qualify for next season’s Champions League would be the sort of player they would have a good chance of tempting to White Hart Lane.
Relatively affordable and a definite improvement on what’s currently available. What’s Harry waiting for?