Comment: With the Gareth Bale fee already spent, Andre Villas-Boas must get new Tottenham team to gel

Derby defeat shows the Spurs manager must quickly integrate his seven new signings

With the money in the bank, the man in Madrid and the replacements bought, the long hard road of work can now begin at Tottenham Hotspur.

The Gareth Bale sale was a historic moment, and it might even be seen one day as a necessary step in the club’s journey. Spurs have done the first part as well as they possibly could, spending almost all of the fee on seven excellent replacements. The next task, the longer task, which will decide if it was worth it, is whether their manager, Andre Villas-Boas, can mould them into a better team.

Sunday evening cannot have been much fun for Spurs fans. In isolation the Bale news might have mattered less, but it came immediately after something far less enjoyable and – in terms of emotion and meaning – more important: the 1-0 north London derby defeat at Arsenal. It was, entirely understandably, a disjointed and patchy performance from Tottenham and one that showed just how much they now need to do.

After the thrill of an ambitious August, this was the realisation that in September Spurs will be measured only on the pitch, where they have some improving to do. Sunday was Spurs’ third Premier League game of the season, after 1-0 wins over Crystal Palace and Swansea City, and they looked no closer to scoring their first goal from open play of the season.

In their first two matches Spurs won thanks to Roberto Soldado penalties but at the Emirates, for all Villas-Boas’s post-match enthusiasm – “the second half was all ours” – they created almost nothing of note at all.

Spurs were playing the same system that beat Swansea, a 4-3-3 with a very muscular imposing midfield of Etienne Capoue, Paulinho and Mousa Dembélé. Nacer Chadli and Andros Townsend were either side of Soldado.

The midfield was strong – but too often overrun by Arsenal’s quicker, nimbler arrangement. There was more of a problem, though, going forward, where there was very little linking between the lines. Soldado was frozen out of the game, Chadli was quiet and the only opportunities seemed to come from Townsend taking on Kieran Gibbs, cutting inside and shooting.

It was the sort of closed game which, so often last season, Bale would have broken open. Last season, on his miracle run which earned him his €100m move, he scored Spurs’ only goal in 1-0 wins over Sunderland, Southampton and West Bromwich Albion, and in the 1-1 draw at Norwich City, which started it all.

But now Bale is gone and so Spurs will have to find a different way of playing. Villas-Boas said after the game that the 4-3-3 system was “more or less the way we want to go forward this season”. This will have to work better in future. Paulinho and Dembélé, in time, will get better at picking their runs forward while Erik Lamela, the talented winger, could be darting in from the right wing when he adjusts to the pace of the Premier League.

There is another option too, which is moving to a 4-2-3-1 system which was more successful last year, with Lewis Holtby, Gylfi Sigurdsson or – most likely – Christian Eriksen in the No 10 role. “He is a wonderful creative player, a good solution for our No 10 position,” said Villas-Boas (below). Spurs might even pair Soldado and Jermain Defoe up front in a 4-4-2 system. “In between those systems we will fall,” the manager added.

These are both promising approaches, and Spurs have far more depth than they did last year. It was Arsenal’s options from the bench that were so important in the spring – as they brought Lukasz Fabianski, Aaron Ramsey and Laurent Koscielny into the team to turn around results. This year, in defence and midfield especially, Tottenham have the better reserves, and their bench was far superior to Arsenal’s on Sunday.

But these things take time, as Villas-Boas accepted. “I am not concerned,” he said. “It is not a concern, it is something that we have to work on. It is very, very difficult, with stops for international duty, but I think it will come through time and through matches.”

It will have to. Spurs have moved on before, after the sales of Dimitar Berbatov and Luka Modric up the food chain in the last few years. Bale did, of course, cost more than Berbatov and Modric combined, and was probably more important to Spurs. But he is playing in a different white shirt now and Tottenham, having done the right things with their rewards, will now need to make the most of them.

Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own