Tottenham: Highs and Lows of Andre Villas-Boas' Reign so Far
Andre Villas-Boas is almost halfway through his first season as manager of Tottenham and he's already experienced plenty of highs and lows during his brief reign.
Spurs are right in the mix in the race for Champions League football and have progressed in the Europa League, but AVB has still found himself on the wrong side of the White Hart Lane boo-boys on more than one occasion.
Here's the top highs and lows of Andre Villas-Boas' spell as Spurs manager.
Low: Losing to Wigan at Home
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The nadir of Andre Villas-Boas’ spell as Spurs manager undoubtedly has to be the home defeat to Wigan.
Spurs created next to nothing in the first half and were outworked by Wigan’s midfield. Having gone 1-0 down in the second half, AVB decided to bring on Emmanuel Adebayor, but the substitution only served to frustrate the White Hart Lane crowd upon the realisation that the Togo striker was being brought on as a replacement for Jermain Defoe rather than to partner him.
This was one of the games in which Moussa Dembele was missing and his replacement, Tom Huddlestone, struggled to provide similar levels of inspiration. Spurs have been dangerously reliant on Dembele in the first half of this season and without him they look impotent.
Villas-Boas needs to address this issue in the January transfer window and bring in more midfield creativity.
High: Beating Manchester United at Old Trafford
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The best result achieved by Villas-Boas thus far was the 3-2 away victory over Manchester United. Terry Venables was the last Spurs manager to mastermind a win at Old Trafford some 23 years ago, but AVB was able to put an end to such a miserable streak in one of his first games in charge.
In winning 3-2, Tottenham demonstrated how their current lineup is perfectly suited to playing counter-attacking football. Moussa Dembele’s dribbling ability and the pace of Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon meant that Spurs were able to make quick transitions from defence to attack. United’s defence just couldn’t cope as Tottenham attacked with such purpose.
Spurs rode their luck to hold onto their 3-2 lead as Manchester United rallied and for once were able to avoid conceding a late goal. It was a significant result for Villas-Boas. Not only have Spurs struggled to believe that they can beat United over the years, but they have also often failed to pick up away victories against the top teams.
Low: Man Management
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Whilst Andre Villas-Boas has done a better man management job at Spurs than he did amongst the egos at Chelsea, he has still made some major mistakes.
Naming Michael Dawson as the club captain before trying to sell him to QPR days later, and then rarely picking him after the deal broke down, was a bizarre way to treat a senior player at the club. In fact, AVB can count himself lucky that Dawson is a model professional and not the type to kick up a fuss.
Then there was the way he dealt with the arrival of Hugo Lloris. Rather than making a decisive decision as to who should be his first-choice goalkeeper between Lloris and Brad Friedel, Villas-Boas rotated the keepers.
This only served to put pressure on Lloris, as the French media questioned why he wasn’t playing. Having spent so much money on a keeper of Lloris’ quality, it was obvious that he would supersede the veteran Friedel at some point, so what was the point in waiting so long?
High: Tactical Changes Against Arsenal
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It might seem strange to select a moment in a game that Spurs actually lot 5-2 against their most hated rivals, but sometimes the final score doesn’t tell you the full story of the game.
Having been criticised for his negative tactics, AVB surprised everyone with his attacking 4-4-2 formation that he picked against Arsenal. Spurs bossed the opening moments of the game and went up 1-0 when some good work by Jermain Defoe was pounced upon by his strike partner, Emmanuel Adebayor.
The promising start soon turned sour, however, after Adebayor was sent off. Arsenal took advantage of their extra man and ended the first half with a 3-1 lead.
Many managers would have merely looked to have kept the score down in such a circumstance, but AVB instead went to three at the back in order to bring on another attacking player. The result was that Spurs controlled much of the early stages of the second half. The eventual 5-2 defeat was not nearly as comprehensive as in the previous season’s result against Harry Redknapp’s 11-man team, and it was welcome to see such a spirited display in adversity.
Low: Negative Substitutions Equals Late Goals
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The Tottenham motto is "To Dare is to Do," but Villas-Boas has often been guilty of not adhering to the Spurs' philosophy.
When Tottenham get their noses in front, AVB’s instinct is to try and protect that lead rather than build upon it. Forward players are taken off to be replaced by more defensive players, which has only served to invite pressure and has resulted in Spurs conceding late goals.
This season has seen Tottenham concede late equalisers against West Brom and Norwich, while late winners have been conceded against Newcastle, Norwich (in the Capital One Cup), Manchester City and Everton.
Perhaps this attitude is simply a sign that Villas-Boas doesn’t have complete faith in his current roster of players. As he adds to the squad, one would hope that his tactics will evolve into something closer to what Spurs fans are used to.
High: Getting the Best out of Jermain Defoe
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The received opinion at White Hart Lane was that Jermain Defoe was unable to play as a lone striker. Various managers had tried Defoe in such a position without success. Defoe just didn’t seem to have the ability to hold the ball up, to complement his undoubted goalscoring ability.
It seemed as if Defoe was a player that could only play in a 4-4-2, at a time when that particular formation seemed to be dying out. Harry Redknapp couldn’t find a space for Defoe in his first-choice XI last season and many expected Andre Villas-Boas to ship him out.
Instead, AVB has put more faith in Defoe than pretty much any Spurs manager before him. Implementing a 4-2-3-1 formation, Villas-Boas made Defoe the spearhead of his attack and has been rewarded with 13 goals already this season.
Defoe’s movement and hold up play have improved, but Villas-Boas should be praised for the way he’s integrated Defoe into his team and played to his strengths. Tottenham rely on Defoe less in their buildup play than other teams that employ a lone striker, preferring to allow the England hit man to simply apply the finishing touch whilst the possession goes through Spurs’ array of talented midfielders.