After eight Premier League matches Andre Villas-Boas' Tottenham side find themselves sitting in a respectable fifth place having only lost to Chelsea and Newcastle. Furthermore, Villas-Boas managed to break Spurs' Manchester United hoodoo with a shock win made all the more impressive by the fact that this miracle occurred away at Old Trafford. So is AVB finally realising his huge potential or do the stats flatter to deceive?
Rarely have I wanted a manager to do as well as I do Andre Villas-Boas which made the new look Tottenham's auspicious start to the season particularly painful viewing. An opening day defeat at St. James' Park/Sports Direct Arena/Wonga Warehouse (delete as appropriate at time of reading) followed by two similarly stuttering home score draws left Villas-Boas looking confused as to why his masterplan wasn't working whilst the doubters in the stands voiced their criticism of the not always media savvy Portuguese. The optimists gritted their teeth and prayed 'Lord, not again'.
We didn't have to wait long to see a smile put back on Andre's face though, a run of four wins on the trot launched Spurs up the table and suddenly according to the pundits Tottenham were title contenders once again. But we've heard that before haven't we and last weekend's defeat to Chelsea acted as a much needed reality check. Spurs might be where they should be but not all is golden.
It pains me to say it, like I say I really want Villas-Boas to prove his doubters wrong but Spurs have looked no more than average at any point thus far this season. Watching Spurs beat Manchester United at Old Trafford has to be up there with one of the most surreal experiences of this young Tottenham supporter's life. There was a moment at half-time (just a moment of course, I'm a Spurs fan pessimism is my default setting even whilst witnessing a miracle) where I genuinely thought that this was it, we'd finally broken through, the dark days were over and AVB was going to lead us relentlessly towards the light. Unfortunately, unlike many of the other Tottenham fans and journalists the next 45 minutes of tactical suicide forced me to temper my newly found optimism. Rarely has a team played so poorly for so long and pulled off one of their greatest victories in recent times. It was less 'parking the bus' and more 'oh you seem to have missed, have another go old chum', even Jacques Santini would have been on edge.
That second half performance really emphasised the major flaw in Villas-Boas' continuing tactics: Jermain Defoe cannot play as a lone striker, and to add to that Clint Dempsey cannot act as a supporting striker/attacking midfielder at this level. This is a lesson which AVB is still insistent he will not learn.
Far too often this season Defoe has been left isolated up front, vanishing for long periods. To be fair to Defoe he's made the most of what he's got, his goal tally is remarkable for the amount of time that he's actually been involved, mind if you shoot every time you touch the ball you should be scoring at least a few. This is something that Villas-Boas should have been well aware of. During Tottenham's implosion at the end of last season Harry Redknapp on occasion went down this route and found that Defoe just couldn't fit into the lone striker role as well as Adebayor does.
It's infuriating watching long balls fail to get to Defoe or to see him outmuscled attempting to hold the ball up awaiting support whilst Adebayor sits impatiently on the bench.
However if Defoe is the lesser spotted Siberian tiger then Clint Dempsey must be the Abominable Snowman. Dempsey's signing smacked of desperation and all season he's been nothing more than a square peg in a round hole bringing as much to the Tottenham side as James Milner does the England side.
The predicaments of the two D's are exacerbated by the summer departure of one of Tottenham's key men. Whilst Luka Modrić's exit hasn't been as pivotal to Spurs' fortunes as many had expected, mostly due to Moussa Dembélé thus far proving to be an excellent replacement both defensively and offensively, it's Rafael van der Vaart who is missed the most.
I can understand Villas-Boas wanting to freshen up the squad but Van der Vaart has a natural class as an attacking midfielder of which most would be envious. We saw last season that he and Defoe together were not as productive as his pairing with Adebayor but Van der Vaart's ability to get the ball down and into the striker's feet in promising positions is far superior to anything Dempsey can offer. Add to that his ability to bring Bale and Lennon flying down the flanks and it's easy to see what's been missing from Tottenham's performances this season.
It's not just up front that Villas-Boas has been making some strange choices, perhaps the most annoying one is that William Gallas seems the be the first name on his team sheet despite being the worst centre back at the club for the last few years (save for Sébastien Bassong, of course), an error in judgement only worsened by giving Gallas the captain's armband. Hopefully when Younes Kaboul is back he and Jan Vertonghen can form a strong alliance in central defence, even if it does mean we lose the entertainment of watching a very game Vertonghen striding up the pitch like Bambi on ice as a makeshift left back (a job which to be fair he's done remarkably well).
Having said all that there are positive signs, on occasion there have been glimpses of a positive passing game being played as Villas-Boas' fluid mentality filters through, it's just in that final third that it falters. He is also handling the Lloris/Friedel situation well, it is difficult having two players who in any other circumstance would be nailed onto the team sheet but until Friedel finally hits his cobweb strewn wall there's little else the manager can do but employ a little rotation.
Signs of improvement are evident at White Hart Lane and the promise of an Andre Villas-Boas revolution is still alluring but there are just a couple of infuriatingly obvious errors of judgement which need to be ironed out.
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