The Tottenham side that dispatched Villa 2-0 on Sunday with goals from Andros Townsend and Roberto Soldado was not surprising in terms of the reasoning behind the manager's decisions. However, Villas-Boas' previous team selections this season made it so an approach more in keeping with certain policies was anticipated.
Kyle Naughton was expected to continue deputizing for Danny Rose at left-back despite the predominantly right-sided player's discomfort in the position. Also, partly because it was preferred that Jan Vertonghen stayed at centre-back.
Vertonghen—a player who featured at left-back several times prior to Benoit Assou-Ekotto's return from injury last season—was instead trusted to provide the same composure he does in central defense. In his place there came Premier League debutant Vlad Chiriches, with the Romanian showing a good temperament for life in the English top flight.
Further forward, having persisted with Christian Eriksen, Villas-Boas might have been expected to allow him a further chance to regain the form of his first few games for Tottenham. In his place, Lewis Holtby was certainly deserving of his starting opportunity in attacking midfield following his bright showings in cup games.
Less surprising was Sandro's selection in central midfield. After their defensive capitulation versus West Ham United, it made sense he might be installed to give Spurs more of a shield in front of the back line. However, that it was Moussa Dembele he replaced rather than Paulinho (who had played for Brazil in China earlier in the week) caught this writer out.
Villas-Boas has walked a fine line between faith in his players and a willingness to change things up. The loan of current man of the moment Townsend to Queens Park Rangers last season came in part from a belief he had enough in his squad to get by without the speedy winger.
The Portuguese got that decision wrong, but he has certainly gotten others right. Sticking with Brad Friedel following Hugo Lloris' signing sent out the message good form would be rewarded (and in hindsight, the extra time probably allowed the Frenchman to settle in his new country). He also recalled Michael Dawson last year after having previously rated others ahead of him.
The decisions taken against Villa would have been similarly tough calls for Villas-Boas and his coaching staff. As he told Spurs' official Twitter page, they were decisions by which he felt vindicated:
Andre: 'We gave the opportunity to players who did well in the Europa League & they repaid us. I'm really pleased with how the team played'— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) October 20, 2013
ESPN FC's John Brewin further underlined the Spurs boss' current issue, pointing out "that he cannot blood all of his summer £110 million outlay at once." That extends to giving those who were already at the club playing time to prove themselves too.
As has been apparent all season long, the players at Villas-Boas' disposal will ensure there are many a selection dilemma to come.
Chiriches and Sandro's solid performances will particularly test any preconceived notions about this Spurs team.
The Dawson/Vertonghen and Dembele/Paulinho partnerships in defense and midfield, respectively, have not been flawless; each will hope the Hammers overwhelming them like they did will be the nadir of this campaign. But both have enough going for them that altering to include Chiriches and/or Sandro will not be a decision taken lightly.
Despite the promise Eriksen holds, sticking with Holtby might prove a less difficult decision to make.
It took the German time to find any rhythm against Villa, but once he did, his tenacity and eagerness seeking the ball out coincided with Spurs gaining a greater foothold in the game. Though less skillful than Eriksen, Holtby has a comparable eye for a pass that, coupled with his work ethic, makes him a worthy competitor for the team's "playmaker" role.
With Soldado returning to the team to score his first league goal in open play and Aaron Lennon making his first appearance since August off the bench to shore things up on left wing, there were further reminders of the depth currently at Spurs' disposal.
Villas-Boas' opposite number, Paul Lambert, can currently only dream of having a squad full of so many recognized internationals.
The lift the fit-again Christian Benteke provided after coming on in the second half following a timid first hour from Villa's frontmen served to reiterate their reliance on a few key men.
Tottenham do not have that issue. Their main one is finding the right combination between the big names and quality young talent they do have.
Sheriff Tiraspol in the Europa League and Hull City provide the next tests of Villas-Boas' ability to do that.