Roberto Soldado’s Tottenham career will forever be remembered as a failure. The Spaniard may have made a relatively bright start to life in England, but he ultimately failed to live up to expectations at White Hart Lane. His form for Valencia convinced Spurs to splash the cash on the striker in the build up to Gareth Bale’s inevitable move to Real Madrid, but it was certainly not money well spent by the North London side.
But since returning to the friendlier confines of La Liga, Soldado has shown glimpses of the form that he showed at Valencia. The Yellow Submarines have netted four league goals this season, with Soldado having a direct hand in all four, with two goals and two assists to his name, with each figure unbeaten in Spain’s top tier this term
Only a handful of players in Europe’s top 5 leagues have been directly involved in more goals than Soldado this season.
So why is Soldado rediscovering his form in Spain. One reason is tactical. In the opening two league games of the season, Saldado has been partnered with Leo Baptistao, who prefers to drift wide, dragging attention away from Soldado who is then free to do what he does best. A free-flowing 4-4-2 formation, where widemen Nahuel and Samu Castillejo are given the license to push forward and tasked with putting the ball into the box at the first opportunity, suits Soldado’s game to a tee.
Furthermore, Marcelino has adopted a more fluid approach, allowing Soldado to enjoy a fine return to Spain in the process. An average of 47.5% possession ranks among the bottom 10 teams in La Liga and while it’s a very small sample size, it provides an insight into the difference between Villarreal’s gameplan and Spurs’. Comparatively, the latter are averaging 53.1% possession this season and while it’s a relatively negligible difference, the Yellow Submarine are keen on moving from defence to attack as swiftly as possible in order to score, something Spurs struggled to do during Soldado’s time at the club.
This has seen Villarreal gain a statistically calculated WhoScored strength of ‘counter attacks’ and having scored four goals from just 22 shots this season, Marcelino’s side have developed a strength of ‘finishing scoring chances’, with Soldado crucial to both aspects. While his departure leaves Spurs short in attack, his style of play certainly didn’t suit Mauricio Pochettino’s high-pressing game. In Spain, though, Soldado is beginning to find his best form once more as Villarreal look to better their 6th-placed finish from last season and progress in the Europa League.
The striker finally looks to be enjoying his football once more after a disappointing two years in England. Marcelino has implemented a system that brings out the best in Soldado, with the frontman repaying the faith shown in him from the 50-year-old manager. Having quickly developed an impressive understanding with fellow summer arrival Cedric Bakambu, Villarreal have started the season commendably with Soldado spearheading the attack. Given the calibre of creative personnel in a system ideal for the striker, there’s no reason why he cannot maintain this form after the international break.