Emmanuel Adebayor has been rejuvenated since the appointment of Tim Sherwood as Tottenham manager back in mid-December, but his performance in last week's disappointing 1-0 defeat to Norwich was his poorest of the season.
It was also Tottenham’s worst display under Sherwood - but is this cause or effect? Was Adebayor anonymous simply because Tottenham played badly, or have they become too reliant upon the Togo striker, and unable to function when he’s uninvolved?
It’s important to consider the system Sherwood used at Carrow Road last Sunday. His midfield selections have varied wildly since he took charge – for his first match he used an alarmingly attack-minded quartet of Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen, Mousa Dembele and Gylfi Sigurdsson, a midfield that contained no obvious defensive player.
In stark contrast, last weekend he started with Etienne Capoue, Nabil Bentaleb and Paulinho, a midfield that contained no obvious attacking player. In fact, it’s arguable that this trio are all more defensive than the quartet Sherwood used for his debut match against Southampton, which suggests he’s struggled to achieve any kind of balance.
His selections out wide at Norwich were also interesting, with Aaron Lennon on the left and Dembele starting on the right. Although they played those roles during the 4-0 win over Newcastle United, it’s a peculiar combination out wide. Both are good players, but they have the same major shortcoming. Neither score enough goals, primarily because they don’t naturally get into the right positions. They run with the ball, often very directly, but their off-the-ball movement is poor, and therefore Adebayor was left isolated.
Adebayor netted a brace against Dnipro on Thursday - including this brilliant winner
The enforced early change, which saw Capoue departing through injury, Nacer Chadli introduced on the flank and Dembele brought back into the midfield, should have helped things. Chadli naturally knows how to play wide in a front three, although is clearly suffering from a lack of confidence and doesn’t have a great relationship with anyone else in the side. Things didn’t improve.
Therefore, Adebayor obviously lacked support. In particular, nobody attempted to make runs beyond him in behind the Norwich defence, which might have been difficult because Chris Hughton’s side were playing a deep defensive line. But it’s an extremely important concept when playing a lone striker, especially in Adebayor’s case – while he can be lethal in the penalty box, he likes coming short towards the ball and becoming involved in build-up play. Unless there are runners beyond him, it means he can only contribute to Spurs playing in front of the opposition.
It was interesting to compare Adebayor’s performance to that of Olivier Giroud, who hit two goals the previous day for Arsenal against Sunderland. The major difference wasn’t the goals, however, but the link-up play. The two received the ball a similar number of times, and in reasonably similar positions.
However, Giroud always had a forward runner darting past him when he received possession: Tomas Rosicky, Lukas Podolski or Jack Wilshere. This meant Giroud repeatedly attempted to play one-touch flicks into the path of oncoming runners, and his assist for Rosicky’s goal illustrated this perfectly. It was a similar goal to the one Wilshere scored against Norwich earlier in the season, and underlines the value in playing a centre-forward as the central pivot.
Giroud had options ahead of him, and therefore often played forward passes. Some went astray, as is natural when playing in such tight spaces, but Arsenal were consistently dangerous in this respect.
Adebayor, however, barely had any support – and therefore he almost always played the ball backwards.
This problem was highlighted when Roberto Soldado came off the bench midway through the second half, and was almost immediately presented with a golden chance thanks to Adebayor’s intelligent link-up play, the sole ‘chance created’ shown above. Soldado, clearly struggling for form, blazed his shot high and wide, but it shows that Adebayor appreciated the option, and that Norwich struggled to cope with a runner playing off him.
Sherwood doesn’t have to use Soldado to support Adebayor, but he must ensure his main striker is supported with forward runners. If not, Adebayor can hardly be blamed for failing to rescue Tottenham yet again.