Tottenham Hotspur: Adebayor Might Yet Provide a Solution to Spurs' Striker Woes
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The much-maligned Emmanuel Adebayor's goal against Basel last Thursday was a welcome sight for Tottenham Hotspur fans, giving them a rare chance to cheer a goal-shy striker who has so often underwhelmed this season.
Against Everton on Sunday, Adebayor not only scored a second goal in two matches, but put in his best all-round performance in quite some time. The last time he had looked so convincing as a frontman was in the opening 15 minutes away at Arsenal (before he was sent off).
Spurs' striker struggles of the last few months were hardly put to bed by the Togo international's performance in the 2-2 draw with the Toffees. What it did do was highlight certain ways in which Andre Villas-Boas' team might improve in the final third, and the part Adebayor might play in these efforts. Because for all the difficulties surrounding the performances of the 29-year-old and Jermain Defoe of late, their potential success relies a lot on what those around them do.
Without significant attacking talent like Defoe, Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale, there was a greater onus on Adebayor to compensate for their absence. He got off to a flier in this regard against Everton, directing in Jan Vertonghen's seductively curled cross.
Only his sixth goal for Spurs in all competitions this campaign, Adebayor has not been anywhere near as prolific as last season. Positionally, his instincts have generally been as sound as they ever were. That was clear to see in both his goals in the last week—each of which saw him smartly judge when to attack the balls into the box.
The problem has been in his finishing. Against Swansea City over the Easter weekend, Adebayor timed his run perfectly to latch onto a fine through ball from Mousa Dembele, only to fire weakly at Michel Vorm.
Whether the Everton game will be a turning point, we can only wait and see. Based on this showing, there is hope in the form of Adebayor's more purposeful use of the ball in the box. He was certainly unlucky with the shot that cannoned off the post prior to Gylfi Sigurdsson's equalizer.
Adebayor's overall efforts on Sunday will have been of equal pleasure to the White Hart Lane faithful. Early on, the forward's closing down of Leighton Baines by the touchline drew half-ironic cheers. It was the first of several examples of a recently unparalleled work ethic that would soon see these cheers transform into a wholly appreciative endorsement from the crowd.
On more than one occasion he sought to close down the Everton defense, while off the ball, Adebayor presented himself as a passing option even more frequently. His confidence grew visibly as the game progressed, to the point he was Spurs' most dangerous attacking threat. Some of his mazy runs at the heart of the visiting side's defense may have ended in little tangible, but the intention was welcome in an attack that was (mostly) otherwise void of imagination.
More intelligent support would undoubtedly go some way to getting the best out of Adebayor (and possibly a fit Defoe). Though he cannot really cite this as a legitimate excuse for the overall poorness of his contributions this season, without Bale and Lennon there is more need for the team's attacking midfielders to think about how they support their striker(s).
Too often against Everton, Tottenham reached the penalty area and resorted to swinging in crosses rather than working an opening—a near-pointless exercise against aerially proficient defenders like Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin, backed by a commanding presence in goalkeeper Tim Howard.
It was a shame, as periodically Spurs' midfield (with support from full-backs Vertonghen and Kyle Walker) engaged in quick interchanges of passing that, coupled with runs into space, flummoxed Everton and led to decent opportunities.
Even with a creative force like Bale around, persistence has not been a strong point with Spurs' passing game this year. Often they will try to force the issue rather than bide time—rarely, but for moments of true inspiration (eg. Dembele vs. Lyon, or any one of Bale's spectacular recent goals), has this paid off.
Dembele and Lewis Holtby were not especially productive against Everton, but their attempts to instigate some rhythm in Tottenham's play could not be faulted (especially in comparison to the lifeless Clint Dempsey). Rather than place the burden on them alone to create for the team's focal point upfront, it would seem sensible to provide assistance.
Tom Huddlestone and particularly Tom Carroll both gave Spurs much needed creative outlets in their search for an equalizer (and then a winner) in the second half. Villas-Boas' failure to bring either on sooner was again an example of the manager's inconsistent approach to tactical alterations, and it cost his team.
Without speed, Tottenham's best hopes of scoring lie in their ability to pass and move. The openings created by such mobility and quick movement are there to be seen. Even accounting for the challenges of the myriad styles of opposition in the Premier League, it is a wonder Spurs do not play this way more often.
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