Tottenham Hotspur: How AVB Can Get the Best out of His Summer Transfer Signings
Albeit with the benefit of hindsight, it is safe to say the North London derby came a little too early in the season for Tottenham Hotspur.
Their 1-0 loss to Arsenal may turn out to have a positive effect on manager Andre Villas-Boas' side, should they learn from it. But in terms of getting one over their rivals, Tottenham were not yet in optimum shape to do so against a more derby-readied team.
Villas-Boas started four new signings and brought on Erik Lamela as a second half substitute. The latter was making his Spurs debut, while the others were only two to three games into life at their new club.
Yet to feature are Vlad Chiriches and Christian Eriksen.
Integrating these new signings (not to mention the greater involvement of loan returnees Danny Rose and Andros Townsend) has meant Spurs are essentially putting together a new team.
The quality of these players and the ones already in the squad gives Spurs a healthy chance of succeeding in this task.
Nonetheless, Villas-Boas and his coaching staff will be well aware it is not a job they can take lightly. The strength of their top-four rivals ensures that integrating the new signings is a process that must happen relatively quickly.
The Spurs boss' plans to get the best out of these players individually will become apparent as we get a better idea of how he intends to use them.
We do not know for certain if Chiriches stands a genuine chance of starting in defense or if he has been brought in chiefly as backup.
Eriksen seems a more likely candidate to start as soon as Spurs' next game in two weeks: a home meeting with Norwich City. More interesting in relation to the former Ajax man is how his new teammates will be set up around him.
Villas-Boas will face some potential dilemmas here. He has accrued so many players in midfield and attack that not all will be able to start.
Inevitably, this means some of these new acquisitions will already be looking at time on the bench.
For instance, Lamela and Nacer Chadli could both conceivably start on the flanks. Yet doing so would mean missing out on Townsend's directness or Lennon's experience and nous. In the manager's mind one of the latter pair might be more suitable to start opposite one of the previous two.
Such hard choices need to be made for the benefit of the team, even if one or two egos are bruised along the way.
Despite this difficulty, a positive of the options within the Spurs squad is the numbers are there to help on more than one front.
Villas-Boas confirmed last week his intention to take the Europa League seriously again. With Group K one they should comfortably navigate, there should be more than the six extra games coming up to offer players valuable match time (possibly more too, depending on potential runs in domestic cups).
For those not appearing as frequently in the league, it will be their opportunities to get acquainted with the demands of their new manager. Ideally, it should leave these individuals prepared for more regular playing time, should it come their way.
Establishing a happy balance here is vital for Villas-Boas.
No matter the quality of Tottenham's purchases, they will not settle if not given sufficient playing opportunity. On the other hand, no one should be forced into the team just for the sake of it.
The latter applies to the club's existing players too.
A large burden is on Villas-Boas to get the best out of his new signings. This should not detract from the responsibilities of the players themselves, however.
The departures of Gareth Bale, Tom Huddlestone and Scott Parker (among others) have left the club, if not quite with a leadership deficit, then certainly a need to bring new personalities to the fore.
Seeing Kyle Walker in fervent communication with Townsend during the North London derby was a good sign here. Others too—be they old or new players—have to work hard to make sure everyone is humming the same tune on and off the pitch.
There is no exact science to making it work when a squad undergoes such change. The last time Spurs so significantly changed up a portion of their squad (rather than just augment it with new additions) was in the summers of 2004 and 2008.
The former saw then sporting director Frank Arnesen lay the groundwork for a more youth oriented approach. It ultimately made Spurs more competitive up the higher end of the league table.
Four years later, his replacement, Damien Comolli, instigated substantial change within Juande Ramos' squad. Some of the new arrivals went on to fare quite well, but in the short term it was a plan that left Spurs weak in key positions and lacking leadership.
Villas-Boas—aided by his technical director Franco Baldini—has had the luxury of greater television revenue and money from sales, allowing them to spend on highly rated players—men they think will take the team up a level.
Spurs will hope this new age of comparative extravagance will pay off in an unprecedentedly (at least in recent history) successful manner.
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