Tottenham Hotspur Boss Villas-Boas Must Not Be Afraid to Try Different Tactics
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For Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas to reach the levels he has in football all before turning 35, he has had to possess a certain amount of single-mindedness.
Without the benefit of a professional playing career behind him, he has had to possess the utmost belief in his credentials and abilities as a coach and that his theories and interpretations of the game are as valuable and effective (if not more so) as anyone who might have played the game.
So when his wisdom is questioned (as it has been in the past couple of weeks and at various points in his time in England), it can feel like the Portuguese is being undermined to damaging effect.
In reality that is not the case and is probably still a sign that those of us most familiar with him through his time in the Premier League are not quite over what happened at Chelsea.
But without doubt, Villas-Boas is a different manager to what he was then, with his decision to go with 4-4-2 from the start against Maribor Thursday in the Europa League a sign of his increasing maturity.
Development, evolution, maturing or whatever you want to call—it is something all managers will go through, not just ones as young as him.
His choice to change formation for the 3-1 win was not especially remarkable in itself, but it was one that helped show that the way to go for Villas-Boas is to be open-minded to different possibilities in the way he approaches football.
This does not mean he has to forsake the 4-2-3-1 formation (and all the intricacies that come with it) he and his coaching staff have evidently spent so much time working on drilling into the mindsets of the Tottenham players.
Instead, as Villas-Boas himself said in his post-match interview when highlighting the benefits of the 4-2-3-1, different situations will demand different approaches.
"We still are a team that creates a lot of attacking opportunities with one striker too", he told ITV's Ned Boulting. "And we have done well in the past with both formations.
"It (Sunday's game with Manchester City) is four steps up in the level of competition at the weekend, away from home, so it is a different type of game and different scenario".
This is important, especially for Spurs supporters to understand, that despite the success of the 4-4-2 against Maribor, it might not necessarily be the way to go against City and in some games.
Playing both Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor undoubtedly reinvigorated an attack that had been somewhat stale of late, with the presence and the movement of the latter helping to create space and opportunities the England forward might not have had.
The duo would be a handful for nearly any defense, but with the Premier League champions having looked so shaky at the back in recent weeks, it could really cause City some problems.
However, while Spurs won comfortably against Maribor, the Slovenians were able to find a way through the home side's midfield with a slightly worrying frequency.
This was in part down to the selection of Tom Huddlestone and Tom Carroll in a move that paid off in the creativity they contributed, but one that also went some way to highlighting the value of concessions needing to be made for the threat of the opposition.
Imagine what havoc the returning David Silva, or for that matter any one of City's talented attackers, might wreak with such little regard paid to the problems they could cause.
Obviously a Carroll/Huddlestone midfield will not be used in Manchester, with either Jake Livermore or Sandro (if he is fit) likely to come in to provide a sturdier midfield presence.
This area here is why Villas-Boas can make a strong argument for reverting to a 4-2-3-1 and why he should not be criticized harshly should he decide to. As he pointed out in the earlier quotes, Spurs do not entirely lose their attacking prowess in using this formation with the pace and counterattacking threat they still possess, and so far it has generally made them harder to beat.
It means the manager has a big decision on his hands in how his team approach this Man City fixture, but where he must be paid credit already is for his flexibility is in the way he has generally dealt with his playing personnel.
Not all of his selection decisions are going to delight everyone (this writer is still largely baffled by the preference for William Gallas over Michael Dawson in central defense), but Villas-Boas has certainly been willing to give different players opportunities and in some cases it has paid off well.
He has experimented with several of his squad's younger players this season, with Andros Townsend and Iago Falque impressing in patches and even more promisingly Carroll and Steven Caulker making strong statements as to why they are deserving of consideration for a place in the starting lineup.
Villas-Boas should never abandon his ideas and beliefs completely, not when they have taken him so far in a relatively short space of time.
But neither should he be afraid to try different things and show a continued understanding that different situations can dictate a need for alternative approaches.
A willingness to do this can be to the benefit of his team—and might be the making of him in the long run.
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