What Andre Villas-Boas must do to avoid the slide that derailed Harry Redknapp's Tottenham
Rotation, transfers, tactics and nerve can ensure Spurs retain their momentum
The manager has changed and so has the style but Tottenham’s position is mighty similar to that of 12 months ago.
A strong first half of the campaign has left Andre Villas-Boas’s team well placed to secure a spot in next season’s Champions League. History should, however, encourage the Portuguese and his players to be prudent.
Under Harry Redknapp, Tottenham’s hand a year ago was even more powerful than it is today, yet by the end of the campaign, that advantage had been cast away. While Spurs felt, justifiably, that they were unlucky to be denied Champions League football by Chelsea’s victory in that competition, they ought to have secured third place and never left themselves so vulnerable.
The nature of this season’s Premier League means it is unlikely that this Spurs side will establish a 10-point gap to the fourth-placed team, as last season’s had by February.
The closer competition makes it even more important for Villas-Boas and his players to learn from the mistakes of the past.
Redknapp’s reliance on a core of key players left some tired and others short of rhythm when the crucial period of the campaign arrived.
It was easy to see why Redknapp went down this route but, paradoxically, his successor could now benefit from a taxing injury list.
Scott Parker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto have barely played in the first half of the season because of fitness problems and Younes Kaboul has yet to return.
If Villas-Boas trusts them, their freshness could be a significant asset between now and May.
Until now, only central defenders and goalkeepers have been rotated regularly but Villas-Boas must surely alter other areas of the team more frequently if Spurs are to compete on three fronts. Furthermore, the evidence of recent seasons suggests that, at some stage, Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon will suffer muscular problems that will prevent them from playing.
Villas-Boas’s medical team have just as important a role to play as the footballers they treat.
Villas-Boas has hinted the club would do little during the winter transfer window but don’t forget that chairman Daniel Levy drives the deals at White Hart Lane. It is a difficult balance to strike for Levy. On the one hand, he is aware that funds must be available for a new stadium, yet on the other, Champions League football would place Tottenham in a better position to pay for it.
In the past three years, Levy has resisted extravagance in January but perhaps this is the time to be daring. With greater subtlety in midfield and more depth in attack, Tottenham would go from top-four possibles to probables at a stroke.
It is easy for those who do not control the finances to advocate gambling but if there were ever a moment to take a calculated risk, this is it.
Villas-Boas deserves credit for recognising immediately his players’ counter-attacking potential and placing great emphasis upon it.
The speed of Bale, Lennon, Mousa Dembele, Kyle Walker, Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor has contributed to six away victories in the
Premier League — only Manchester United have won more times outside their own stadium.
Spurs are playing with greater conviction at home, too, yet at times, when opponents seek solely to contain, they miss the imagination of Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart.
Dembele has been impressive since his move from Fulham but the Belgian is still more effective at turning defence quickly into attack than he is at finding the five-yard pass that others cannot see. It is no surprise that Joao Moutinho, of Porto, and Shakhtar Donetsk’s Willian are long-term targets for Villas-Boas.
Redknapp bore the brunt of supporters’ criticism for last season’s dip in form but the players were just as culpable, if not more so.
This time, many have the benefit of another year’s experience and they should be working in a more serene atmosphere. Redknapp’s strong links with the England job following Fabio Capello’s resignation appeared to have a destabilising effect.
Things ought to be far calmer this time around and the current squad must exploit this to the maximum.
Qualification for next season’s Champions League ought to see Tottenham’s status rocket.
Their London location, and the prospect of a new stadium, should make them an attractive destination for possible transfer targets.
The Premier League contains fewer outstanding teams and with the squad they have, there is a good chance Spurs will end the season among the League’s best four.
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