Poor old André Villas-Boas. After winning the treble with a vibrant, attacking Porto, the young manager’s stock was on the rise. After a disastrous tenure at Chelsea the season after, his reputation took a turn for the worst. Daniel Levy of Tottenham decided to take a punt on the young Portuguese, a decision which at the time I believed to be a masterstroke.
Villas-Boas is a manager that should be a bearded-square peg in a bearded-square hole for Spurs. He believes in quick, attacking football; not unlike his predecessor Harry Redknapp, although Redknapp preferred a very English 4-4-2 to the 4-3-3 Villas-Boas seems to prefer. A further similarity between the two may prove to be the cause of the young manager’s downfall at White Hart Lane; his refusal to compromise in his attacking tactics.
Results have not been terrible, but Villas-Boas will certainly be feeling the pressure after today’s 5-2 defeat against Arsenal. While he may have gone with a 4-4-2 against the Gunners, with Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor up front, it was clear that Spurs went to the Emirates to press and harry Arsenal high up the field, as Villas-Boas’s footballing philosophy decrees.
To begin with, it paid off; Spurs dominated the early exchanges of the game, and Adebayor took full advantage of the early pressure to put the away side ahead on ten minutes after Szczesny could only parry Defoe’s effort. However, the hero turned villain eight minutes later, Adebayor being sent off after a reckless challenge on Santi Cazorla.
And with ten men, it became more clear that Villas-Boas is paying the price for being tactically naive at this level of football. Spurs continued to press with a high line, which played right into Wenger’s hands. With Walcott and Podolski on either wing, Villas-Boas’s side were becoming increasingly open to being eviscerated by pace. Arsenal raced into a 3-1 lead just before half-time.
The changes after the break changed Spurs’ formation from a 4-4-1 into a 3-5-1, with the idea obviously to try and overload Arsenal’s midfield and release Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon when appropriate. This failed to work however, with Bale and Lennon having to track back and defend against the marauding Walcott and Podolski. This left Defoe isolated, and while Bale pulled one back with a superb finish, it was little more than scant consolation.
Would a deeper line have worked? Impossible to say. But arguably Walcott and Podolski would not have been able to stretch their legs as much as they did if Villas-Boas instructed the defence to play slightly deeper. As it happened, every time Cazorla, Wilshere or Arteta got the ball, they were able to rake a cross-field ball from deep to one of their wingers, cutting Tottenham wide open in the process.
Villas-Boas is not a stupid man; but he does have his principles. After having so much success at Porto with a high line and tight pressing game, it is no wonder he finds himself reluctant to change. Maybe he should take note of the two managers who find themselves sitting high in first and second place in the Premier League; Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini. Manchester City’s Mancini himself has no problem with change, as Villas-Boas should know. The Italian reverted to a 3-5-2 against Spurs last week that ultimately won City the game. And as for Ferguson? As Rob Smyth writes in Issue One of The Blizzard, when Real Madrid beat Manchester United 3-2 in 2000 from then on, ‘Ferguson decided that, with destruction intrinsically more controllable than creation, it made sense to prioritise the former.’
Change is not always a good thing; but as Villas-Boas may find, in certain situations, it may be necessary to keep your job.