7 Reasons to Believe Tottenham Are on the Right Track Under Villas-Boas
Tottenham Hotspur's 2-1 defeat of Sunderland on Saturday left the North London club sitting third in the Premier League, not in an altogether dissimilar position to where they found themselves a year ago.
Of course, in spite of any initial similarities, Tottenham are a significantly different prospect to the group who had high hopes heading into 2012.
Andre Villas-Boas is now the man in charge, and after an eventful but ultimately positive first half to his first campaign at White Hart Lane, Spurs fans should be reasonably happy.
It has become a cliche to associate the term "false dawn" with the failure of successive Tottenham managers to replicate the success of the past, but it is appropriate in the respect that the club's supporters will be wary of definitively hailing the Portuguese after being burned and disappointed so many times before.
With that said, in the team's form and in Villas-Boas' actions, there are genuine reasons to be optimistic that Spurs are on the right track under Villas-Boas.
Tottenham endured a particularly frustrating month through the latter half of October and into November.
There were evidently issues with the side Villas-Boas was generally persevering with, but for a little while there, it seemed as if he was oblivious to them.
Unnecessary stubbornness contributed to his downfall at Chelsea, but fears of a repeat of that trait here were allayed in the following games with beneficial changes.
This has not meant Villas-Boas undermining his own philosophy and strategies. Instead, he has shown a welcome adaptability to the demands of different opponents.
That old saying of "change or die" is probably too severe in this regard, but its sentiment rings true in the respect that even the staunchest of beliefs in a way of doing things must be flexible to the whims of the different environments around it.
Villas-Boas will not be able to please everyone with every decision he makes—that is the nature of the job.
But so long as his eyes are open to alternative perspectives, he should be able to see the right path ahead.
Seeing Where Changes Need to Be Made
This differs slightly from the adaptability discussed on the previous page in that it more specifically pertains to work done on the training pitch and in the meeting room.
Tottenham's inability to hold onto leads in games began to draw particular attention after their one-goal lead away at Everton was overturned in the final few minutes of the game.
It was noticed soon afterwards that had their games this season finished on 80 minutes, Spurs would have been top of the table.
This issue demanded attention. Villas-Boas and his defensive players went to work in addressing the reasoning behind their costly lapses in concentration.
Since then, they have conceded a solitary goal (away at Sunderland, and that was arguably the fault of the attacking players supposedly lending a hand who failed to react when the defenders' attentions were turned elsewhere).
The opposition Tottenham have played in that time have not been the most offensively testing, but the improvement shown has been a step in the right direction, and it is to Villas-Boas' credit.
Loyalty to His Players
Regardless of what side you fall on the Gareth Bale diving debate, there is something to be admired in Villas-Boas' staunch defense of the Welshman.
A manager's loyalty to his players (and his relationship with them in general) is a tricky thing to negotiate, seeing as they are not always deserving of it.
But if the right balance is struck and a team knows his manager has his back, they will invariably work and fight harder for him—Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho (ignoring the current mess at Real Madrid) have been two of football's most successful experts at this in recent years.
In general, the Tottenham players have responded well to Villas-Boas, and should he continue to back them in an appropriate manner through the good and bad times, they will likely continue to do so.
Giving Young Players a Chance
Harry Redknapp was beginning to test the water last season in regards to the talented crop of young players coming through at Tottenham, and had he still been in charge, he may have used them more frequently this time around.
Those early experiences for the likes of Jake Livermore, Tom Carroll and Andros Townsend were useful in their progression and has probably made it easier for Villas-Boas to bring them in.
That willingness to involve them has paid off with the latter two in particular making several positive contributions already this season.
Steven Caulker has been the most notable beneficiary of this policy, moving beyond the semi-frequent involvement in the matchday squad like the others to a fully-fledged contender for a place in central defense.
Making Good Use of His Squad
On the whole, Villas-Boas has been making good use of his squad, something that bodes well with the number of quality players at his disposal.
Managing those disparate egos and personalities will become more difficult with time, as will his attempts to get the best out of players dealing with tiredness and other ailments.
But what has been positive so far is how different players have been able to come in and make an impact (to varying degrees admittedly).
Michael Dawson and Kyle Naughton have found themselves more frequently in the team as the season has gone on, while others like Clint Dempsey and particularly Jan Vertonghen have been among those who have fulfilled different roles as needed.
Even Gylfi Sigurdsson, whose involvement has been comparatively fleeting, has been brought on late in games and has contributed a couple of assists over the last month.
As the campaign progresses, more will be need to step up in a way they might not have so far, and the team's success this season may be somewhat dependent on Villas-Boas' judgement here.
Redknapp's most successful season at Spurs was the 2009-10 campaign in which the latter half of the campaign saw Gareth Bale and Roman Pavlyuchenko come in to make a large impact.
While that was forced on him somewhat, that was an example of the benefits of a bigger squad.
Villas-Boas has used his well so far. If he can continue to do so, it may pay dividends.
Villas-Boas Still Has Something to Prove
While the disappointment of Villas-Boas' brief stay at Chelsea has probably added to his desire to succeed at Spurs, his motivation undoubtedly extends beyond that.
Unlike most in his profession, the managerial part of his career so far has gone by on fast-forward.
Barely was he done learning the ropes at Academica when he was given an opportunity back at Porto (having previously coached there), where his remarkable success in his solitary season in charge saw him touted as the next big thing in football management.
Chelsea believed the hype, and while that excitement was largely eroded by his experiences there, Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy still believed in his credentials enough to make him his team's boss.
All of this has not even totaled four full years!
Despite the mistakes he has made and the flaws that still exist, Villas-Boas is undoubtedly a coach of some talent—he would not have gone this far so quickly if not.
If (as seems likely) the motivation is there to genuinely make a mark in this profession, the potential upside to what he might achieve is high.
Tottenham's Form so Far
General as it may be, Tottenham's form so far this season is as good a reason as any to believe Villas-Boas is the right man for the club.
Spurs were hardly wanting for good players, but after the disappointing conclusion to the last season and the upheaval that followed it, they could have easily fell away from the group of clubs contending for a top-four place and more.
To Villas-Boas' credit, he kept faith with his team even after a slow start left them winless after three games, and since then he has managed them to third place (prior to Sunday's games) before the year was out.
They are one of the Premier League's most tactically sound outfits, not perfect, but generally each player is aware of their role in the overall plan.
Too often they have undone their own good work with a drop in effort in vital moments, while teams of equal or greater quality have found ways of getting the better of them.
Defensively there have been improvements of late, while in attack they are a versatile and flexible proposition more often than not, with goals liable to come from a number of sources.
Half of the season remains, but if this team does not drop below its current standard, there is reason to be optimistic about what this club and its manager might do.
In football though, any "if" can be a big "if."