Tottenham Hotspur and Andre Villas-Boas Seek to Break Cycle of Previous Seasons
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"All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again".
Last Saturday's 2-1 home win over Newcastle United came almost exactly a year after Tottenham beat them 5-0 in a result that preceded a dramatic and costly slump in form. The major instigators of that slump were Arsenal, who humiliated Spurs in a 5-2 comeback defeat from which Harry Redknapp's side never really recovered, and the Gunners also visit White Hart Lane in a few weeks' time this season.
Of course things never go exactly the same. Tottenham have to take on another London rival in the form of West Ham United before they get to Arsenal.
Personnel-wise, changes have ensured this Spurs squad is a significantly different prospect to the one whose Champions League aspirations fell apart in 2012. Not least is the fact they have a different manager.
Andre Villas-Boas will naturally be more concerned about his own team and the job he has to do than the one his predecessor did. The Portuguese coach's differences with Redknapp are alone a major reason as to why the culmination of this campaign may play out differently to years past. Yet the fact that Tottenham are again chasing a top-four place and Champions League qualification for the fourth season in a row means parallels are inevitable.
The circumstances leading into and surrounding last season's February meeting with Newcastle were vastly different to here in 2013. But the similarities in scheduling and the value the three points won contributed to Spurs' league standing on both occasions make this as good a point as any to contemplate what might come next.
Tottenham's struggles in the final few months of 2011-12 differed from the previous year's disappointment (when Manchester City comfortably pipped them to fourth place) in that they were not simultaneously contending with European competition for much of that period. Just how much of an effect their Champions League adventures actually had on their poor league form that spring is unclear.
Cup competition has been an inconsistent accompaniment to Spurs' successes and failures of recent years. One might assume the toil of traveling abroad had negative repercussions on them in 2010-11. But then last season they were competing in the FA Cup up until the semifinal stage and still had a poor finish to the season.
Before you get to thinking that playing on more than one front is the common theme, consider that Spurs also were playing in the FA Cup up until April in 2009-10. That was the year they actually qualified for the Champions League, and in total they played more cup games then (eight) post-Christmas than they did in the following two seasons (six and 6.5 respectively—the latter's half being the abandoned match versus Bolton Wanderers).
This season Tottenham are once more competing in Europe (albeit it in the Europa League), and should they progress it might contribute to tiredness in the league. But what previous seasons have demonstrated is that this cannot be a primary excuse.
Whether or not Spurs achieve their aims this season will (unsurprisingly) be down to Villas-Boas' management of his squad and if their ability to win games.
Redknapp got things right in the latter half of 2009-10. Although his hand was forced to an extent by the availability and form of others, his decision to bring in Gareth Bale and Roman Pavlyuchenko paid dividends as they gave a timely boost to a team flagging after Christmas. Others like Eidur Gudjohnsen and Danny Rose came in and contributed too.
Tottenham won games against teams they were expected to but also picked up points from their top-four rivals. Wins against Arsenal, Chelsea and particularly Man City saw them into fourth place in triumphant style.
Sadly for Spurs they could not repeat this late-season form over the following two years. Redknapp failed to rotate his squad as effectively, resulting in a team that grew increasingly tired and uninspired.
As a result they paid the price for lackluster performances and once promising campaigns collapsed under the weight of anticipation.
Villas-Boas has plenty of thinking to do now as he looks to field his best possible team without them suffering a harmful burnout. His team also faces a run-in as tough as any in previous years. After the upcoming London derbies, Tottenham still have to face top-four rivals Liverpool, Everton, Chelsea and Man City. That is not to mention tough trips to Swansea City and Stoke City.
Having not got the chance to complete his first season in England with Chelsea last year, we are going to learn a lot about how AVB approaches finishing a Premier League campaign.
As outlined above, the burden of the past does weigh heavily on Tottenham. However there are reasons to be positive for the North London club.
Spurs possess a talented squad full of players keen to make up for past disappointments, as well as others who have joined up with the belief they can full fulfill their ambitions with them. Coupled with Villas-Boas' own aspirations, there has arguably not been a combined greater motivation since the success of 2009-10.
It has the makings of an exciting few months for Tottenham. All of this may have happened before, but we are about to see if Spurs are good enough to ensure it plays out differently this time.
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