Though Tottenham were forced to settle for a draw in Wednesday night's crucial match with Chelsea as the race for the Champions League draws to a close, one heartening take-away from the game was the performance of Emmanuel Adebayor, who went some of the way towards silencing his critics with an energetic, efficient showing which saw him bag the goal and assist that handed his side the point.
What exactly was it about Abebayor's play that can be picked out as improved when comparing his efforts to other points in the season, which has generally seen him come under fire for adding little to Tottenham's general level of threat and ability to create chances? Most will argue that on Wednesday night, Adebayor looked 'livelier' or 'more interested' than he has done during other ties this term. I would argue that this is something of a fallacy, as in my opinion Adebayor has in fact been one of the team's hardest working members, putting himself about and contributing more to buildups than his rival for the spot on the team. In terms of work rate, I don't think Wednesday night was a particular standout for the Togolese forward in the wider scheme of this season.
One facet of Adebayor's play from Wednesday night that I do feel deserves some special appreciation, and want to use as the focus of this piece, was his intelligent targeting of space. As previously mentioned Adebayor has consistently through the season been a player who works the channels and comes deep to claim the ball in order to contribute to the team's pressing efforts. For much of the season, however, this movement has been largely arbitrary, not taking him into any positions where he looks more likely to set up or score goals.
A large part of what went right during his game against Chelsea was his much more purposeful and considered exploiting of gaps left by the Chelsea defence as they set about trying to nullify the threat of other players, especially Gareth Bale. This was particularly evident on the second goal, where rather than looking to receive the ball straight at his feet in the face of goal, Adebayor timed an excellent (if slightly offside run) to drag Gary Cahill out of position, leaving a perfect space for Gylfi Sigurdsson, who was poorly tracked by David Luiz, to take a shot on goal, playing the Icelandic midfielder in with a divine backheel.
Leading up to this point, Adebayor had already spent long periods of the game capitalizing on the shifting nature of the play. Check out how his actions areas change between the first and second halves:
Now compare those positional shifts to those of Gary Cahill:
And Cesar Azpilicueta:
(all images from Squawka.com).
You'll notice that as the two Chelsea defenders became pre-occupied with other jobs as the game wore on, Adebayor started to specifically move himself into the spot they left behind (that second block in on the left flank), allowing him a cleaner sight at goal. This again stands in contrast to the approach to the game that had become the norm for him this season, which saw him playing proactively to get on to the ball but not reading and reacting to the flow of the game quite as well as he did on Wednesday.
I hesitate to describe Wednesday night's game as an isolated example of Adebayor 'turning it on' or 'applying himself', because as I stated in the introduction to this piece I feel that the Togolese has been working himself into the ground all year for the side. One thing I do think he managed to do on the night was marry his stellar work rate to an improved level of intelligence and a better understanding of what he had to do to make himself more effective as a forward, rather than simply a workhorse sitting between the lines of the pitch and performing functions like hold-ups for the team.