There was some bafflement in Tottenham’s decision to replace their relatively successful manager Harry Redknapp with Andre Villas Boas this summer. Redknapp had won close to 50% of his games at Tottenham and led them to fourth spot in the Premiership twice during his tenure while Villas Boas was coming out of a difficult time at Chelsea amid reports of player unrest.
Worries were not so much because people thought Villas Boas was a bad manager; he won the Portuguese and Europa League with Porto and Roberto Di Matteo never quite brought more consistent results with Chelsea than the Portuguese manager. In the 2011/12 season Villas Boas’ Chelsea averaged 1.7 points per game while Di Matteo only achieved 1.5, although that is forgotten about when considering the Italian won the club’s first European Cup.
Where some people thought Villas Boas would struggle was in a man-management capacity. He tried to instill a new playing philosophy very quickly and managed to irk several senior members of the squad. Tottenham, having been drilled the same way under the same manager for several years, could have presented a similar problem.
However by all accounts Villas Boas seems to have learnt from his earlier missteps, making only minor tweaks to how Tottenham play and trying to implement an overhaul in a more gradual way. Doubtless more change will come slowly as transfer windows pass and more of Villas Boas’ preferred players arrive (such as Joao Moutinho and Lewis Holtby).
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As the statistics above show, Villas Boas has cast aside his reputation for being tactically inflexible, managing to actually marginally improve Tottenham through this transition period while also having to deal with the loss of his best player, Luka Modric, to Real Madrid.
His high line and pressing was thought to be too much for an aging Spur’s back line in much the same way as it was too much for Chelsea’s but Villas Boas has reigned in that aspect of his plan while bringing through more athletic defenders in Jan Vertonghen and Steven Caulker. Spurs don’t operate a more frantic defense, tackling and intercepting at pretty much the same rate as they did under Redknapp, which allows aging defenders such as William Gallas to still have a valuable role to play.
In fact, Villas Boas has modified his normally possession heavy strategy to take advantage of Tottenham’s pace and trickery on both flanks. The one real change from Redknapp’s time is the amount of passes played per match, especially in the final third. Now Spurs are using tricky players such as Gylfi Siggurdson and Moussa Dembele to penetrate rather than calmly switching play from side to side with Luka Modric. As Michael Cox points out, now Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale are expected to make runs behind the defense on the break rather than beat their man and put in a cross. Bale, in fact, is in the best goal scoring form of his career, already matching his career high in the league with 18 games yet to play.
It’s only been 21 league matches but in his fledgling Tottenham career Villas Boas has shown some important things. He hasn’t been wedded to a 4-3-3, ready to stick somewhat to formations that his players had become accustomed to with a 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1 with Clint Dempsey dropping off. He’s learned from his mistakes at Chelsea and avoided alienating senior figures in the Spurs camp. And in a refreshing change of pace from Harry Redknapp he’s taken all competitions that Tottenham compete in very seriously. Spurs have tried hard in the Europa League, rarely resting the majority of their regular starters, and look serious contenders to progress far in the competition. Not only does this instill a winning mentality in the squad but more importantly it gets first-team players used to working under a new manager. In any club, it takes time for players to truly become adept at their new roles under new management, and more serious games can only help the process.
All of the stats from this article have been taken from the Opta Stats Centre at EPLIndex.com – Subscribe Now (Includes author privileges!) Check out our new Top Stats feature on the Stats Centre which allows you to compare all players in the league & read about new additions to the stats centre.