Andrè Villas-Boas has helped Tottenham rocket into third place in the Premier League as he has fought with an agonising list of injuries, a duo of strikers who have failed to pick up their form of recent seasons and losing three key players in the summer.
Normally, the first season when a new manager takes over is traditionally labelled as one of “transition”. When you consider the departures of Luka Modric, Rafael Van der Vaart and the retirement of Ledley King, it’s understandable to see how the whole squad has changed, along with the signings of six new players.
Whilst at Chelsea Villas-Boas was repeatedly shot down for his poor man management. Ironically, one year after his sacking two of the players he tried to fade out (Terry and Lampard) of the starting eleven are facing similar situations. The skipper is struggling to break into the first team, whilst Lampard has been refused a new contract.
The form of Ryan Bertrand has been a contrast to the one which saw him be labelled as “Ashley Cole’s successor” when playing under AVB, whilst Liverpool striker Daniel Sturridge has flourished at the Merseyside club after being given an initial Premier League spell under the Portuguese last season.
A contrast between last season and this season for Villas-Boas is the lack of support he has received by the board. Hugo Lloris has revealed he had been a long-term target of Spurs, having rejected an approach made by them a few seasons ago. Vertonghen and Sigurdsson were signed before AVB was officially appointed as manager, and Adebayor was clearly signed following last year’s successful loan spell. Maybe Mousa Dembele was a target of the Tottenham head coach, but I have my doubts that Dempsey was a high priority for the boss alongside Moutinho and Damiao!
What has been downplayed is the success of AVB as a scout. Previously starting his career in this position, the former Porto boss has clearly not lost his eye for talent, buying the likes of Gary Cahill, Juan Mata and Romelu Lukaku.
But how has the 35-year-old shaped Tottenham?
The head coach has often opted for 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 systems, tactically changing to suit each opponent. The changes in defence have also come under scrutiny, but Villas-Boas has been playing a very intelligent game to mould a team to counter the opponent’s attack. For example, Michael Dawson is often used to man mark the physical threats, such as the likes of Peter Crouch and Andy Carroll.
Benoit Assou Ekotto on the other hand has been dropped for games against West Ham and Swansea, where the crossing aspect of the opponent is a major part of the game. As shown by last night’s performance against Basel, his tackling and link-up play is poor, preventing a speedy counter attack.
His style of football enrages some old folk in the crowds, questioning why the team rarely pass the ball forward. Obviously, there’s only so many passes you can make when going forward before running out of space! But the beauty of his football is patience. He encourages the team to hold onto the ball and keep possession whilst working the other team around to try and stretch them. The final part of his plan is to ‘pick the lock’ when the moment is right.
Critics might argue that this has been a failure, but chances have been created by midfielders and wasted by the attackers. Look at the game last night for example, where Parker and Bale both missed very decent opportunities in the first half. Or even last week against Swansea, where Bale hit the post, Sigurdsson had a decent effort saved by Vorm, and Adebayor missed a sitter (again).
The philosophy is to attack. He set up the team against Inter Milan to do exactly that. Adebayor and Defoe have both scored a Premier League goal each since Boxing Day. Dempsey, Vertonghen, Sigurdsson and Lennon have scored more than the duo since their last Premier League goals.
Last night I heard a fan next to me say “AVB isn’t good enough”, quickly followed by “the squad isn’t good enough”. He muttered afterwards, “we’ll finish 5th”. I 100% agree that the squad is not worthy of a top four finish, but to be flirting with third place in April is a tremendous effort.
Combining this with the attempt to win a trophy and show some ambition in Europe, it still ceases to amaze me when fans don’t join in and proudly sing: “AVB’S BLUE AND WHITE ARMY!“