On May 18, 2011, FC Porto beat Portuguese rivals Braga 1-0 in the final of that season’s Europa League competition.
Radamel Falcao, who had already scored 37 goals to that point, notched the only tally in the 44th minute as Porto added continental silverware to their league title and the Taca de Portugal victory that would follow four days later.
Hulk and Silvestre Varela operated on either side of the Colombia striker that night in Dublin, and behind them worked an effective midfield trio of Fernando, Fredy Guarin and Joao Moutinho.
Managing the side was a 33-year-old Andre Villas-Boas, and his aggressive, retrieval-oriented 4-3-3 system helped deliver a historic treble to Estadio do Dragao.
Two years on, Villas-Boas is in charge of Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur. If Tuesday’s rumours are to be believed he could be about to bring the London outfit’s summer spending to more than £100 million, having already doled out nearly £58 million on Etienne Capoue, Nacer Chadli, Paulinho and Roberto Soldado.
Brazilian attacker Willian and Argentine forward Erik Lamela are the latest players in his sights, and the Daily Mail has reported the duo could be on their way to White Hart Lane for a combined £60 million.
And while losing Bale would obviously be a blow (he scored 21 Premier League goals last term and picked up both the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year awards), his transfer saga has hung like a cloud over White Hart Lane the past few months and Villas-Boas, who would no doubt prefer to tailor his preparations for players he can expect to be in the side, could be forgiven for simply wanting to move forward—even without the Welshman.
The arrivals of Willian and Lamela would represent a big part of that process, not only in replacing Bale with players of some quality but also in their positional preferences.
Willian—a left-sided playmaker—and Lamela—a forward comfortable on either flank—seem perfectly suited to the 4-3-3 formation Villas-Boas almost certainly wants to use this season, and with Soldado between them and Paulinho in the centre of the park alongside the likes of Capoue and Mousa Dembele it appears that’s exactly what the now-35-year-old has in mind at the outset of the campaign.
Of course, both will offer something a bit different, just as Hulk and Varela did for Falcao in 2011.
Lamela, likely to operate on the right at Spurs, is a goal-scoring forward who tallied 15 times for Roma in Serie A last season. He will also offer a threat from distance, and his ability to play an accurate pass and use his attacking teammates makes him exactly the sort of asset Villas-Boas is looking for.
Willian, meanwhile, won’t deliver the same number of goals as Lamela, but the right-footed attacker will ensure that the Argentine, Soldado and whichever midfielders are moving forward are constant, dangerous threats in the final third. He is also careful to place his shots on goal and in four appearances for Anzhi Makhachkala this season has yet to miss the target. (Statistics courtesy of Squawka.com)
Both players are also statistically better passers than Bale, whose 78 percent completion rate in 2012-13 had him below Lamela’s 82 percent and the 85 percent Willian has compiled over the last few weeks.
Now, neither will be able to bring the sort of magic that saw Bale change the course of matches in an instant last season, but that’s not necessarily what Villas-Boas will be trying to coax from his reassembled squad.
The Tottenham Hotspur of 2013-14 will be more fluid, more efficient than in years past, and if Villas-Boas can deliver the sort of success his system brought him at Porto in 2011, the fans of his current club will have little to complain about.