October 20, 2013

Villas-Boas needs to find a Plan B

I was a huge advocate of appointing Andre Villas-Boas as Head Coach. I liked his Porto side, I like the fact that he made a career from analysing opposition tactics, and I like the fact that he’s also a genuine coach – someone who wants to improve individual players and his team on the training pitch through very specific measures.

He was dealt a bad hand in his first season with King, Modric and Van der Vaart leaving, but he was lucky enough to have Bale (and he certainly got the best out of him). He achieved fifth place, which was at least one place better than I expected having lost such vital players. The fact that he achieved our highest Premier League points tally is often overlooked due to the failure to secure Champions League football having been well placed to do so.

There have been many positives under AVB, one of the biggest being a win at Old Trafford since 1989. Another being the defensive solidarity he has achieved, helped by his dignified handling of the Friedel/Lloris situation. And of course the considered way he stopped us consistently conceding late goals – through turning up the intensity late in training sessions to encourage concentration at the end of matches. That showcased his analytical side wonderfully.

There is also a lot to be said about the way he handles himself off the pitch. He speaks well, he is mostly deferential, and he is incredibly respectful of our fan base. His management of the Bale situation was perfect.

I am supportive of the way that Andre Villas-Boas is taking the club forward, but that does not mean that everything is rosy, and I do have concerns.

Lack of Plan B

Such is his belief in his philosophy, I sometimes feel that AVB can be inflexible. Generally he wants to play with a very high line which helps his team to win the ball high up the pitch. The intention is to control possession, which is a defensive tactic as well as it is an attacking one; it’s more difficult for the opposition to score when they don’t have the ball.

When teams arrive with the idea to soak up pressure and hit us on the counter, we often look unable to break them down – last season we often relied on a piece of Bale magic to do so, and this season we’ve struggled for goals from open play.

When things are not going our way, there is a lack of bravery in AVB’s substitutions. He will generally wait until the 65-70 mark before making a change, often going like-for-like or, worse, bringing on Defoe for a midfielder; I always feel that it’s strange to bring on a finisher when the team is struggling to create openings *to* finish. That’s not to say he hasn’t got substitutions right – his late changes against Cardiff worked wonders, the introduction of Huddlestone against Everton last season was a masterstroke, and his tactical flexibility in the 5-2 defeat at Arsenal earned him credit too. But these selections have not led to him being bolder, and I personally feel he must be.

Sometimes he needs to accept that his pre-match plans are not working, and to make a change. The way that Mourinho changed the game in Chelsea’s favour at half-time – with Mata coming on for Mikel – showed us what a difference a bold move like that can make. Were it not for Torres being sent off, I think Chelsea would have gone on to win that game, and Mourinho would have been rightly lauded for admitting that he was wrong in not starting Mata, and introducing him when it came to the crunch.

Regista

The lack of a ‘passer’ as one of the ‘2’ in our 4-2-3-1 is a fundamental flaw in our system. To me it seems so obvious that one of the reasons we struggle to break teams down and maintain a quick tempo is that we let the opposition regain shape too quickly as we don’t move the ball quickly enough to our attacking ‘3’. Dembele and Paulinho between them just do not have the direct passing ability that we need from at least one of the players in that role, much like Parker and Dembele didn’t last season.

Sending Carroll out on loan is a move that will hopefully benefit him and us in the long-term but, having sold Huddlestone, we have so few passing midfield players, that it might have been useful to have kept him around. Holtby playing as one of the deeper two is an option but, of course, you do give up a little of the solid defensive screen in making such a selection.

Set pieces

Whilst there is a misconception that AVB is a big user of statistics (“The mind and how the player feels is much more important for us, rather than statistical data.”), he can’t fail to have noticed that we struggle with set pieces at both ends of the pitch. There might have been a push on Vertonghen for West Ham’s first goal a fortnight ago but, even ignoring that, Nolan wandered across the six-yard box untracked; that can’t be happening in top-flight football. Chelsea also profited from our poor set piece defending and we’ve yet to score from a set piece ourselves this season despite having won 51 corners in the league and having had many free kicks in positions which appear to be dangerous. After Manchester City (8.00), we average the most corners per game (7.29), and concede the fewest (3.43) after City (2.43) and Chelsea (3.29) this season (stats from FootytStats).

Much like the focus on late goals being conceded last season, I’d love to see AVB try something in training to put this right. Hopefully they’ll have worked on this during the international break, and we can see some results in today’s game at Aston Villa.

Youth

When AVB was appointed, there was a statement of intent with regards to bringing young players through, Daniel Levy saying:

“Andre shares our long-term ambitions and ethos of developing players and nurturing young talent, and he will be able to do so now at a new world-class training centre.”

Beyond the occasional game for Carroll/Kane/Fryers in the cup competitions, and the inclusion of 22-year old Townsend in the first team this season, there has not been a particular focus on young players being involved, despite there being a lot of talent bubbling under the surface. With Levy having been one of the fiercest advocates of increasing the substitute options from five to seven players, I’d expect to at least have a few young players on the bench for the Europa League games – if not just for the experience of being involved, but to potentially bring on when we’re winning games easily.

The likes of Veljkovic and Bentaleb could have been given a taste of first team football to keep them interested and hungry; including them in squads and giving them 10 or 15 minutes exposure here or there could work wonders and offer an incentive to other young players. Not using and then selling the talented Massimo Luongo baffled me too – I can’t help but think we’ll live to regret that to some extent, and I just hope we have a sell-on percentage agreed.

He doesn’t stick around long

When linked with Paris St-Germain in the summer, Villas-Boas said:

“With Nasser [Al-Khelaifi, the PSG president], we have respect for each other. That PSG approached me was released [to the media] but I wanted to stay a second year in Tottenham, building on the work of last season, making two consecutive seasons in the same club for the first time in my career. I wanted to continue the project here.”

He doesn’t stay at clubs long (or at least hasn’t so far), so as much as we might see AVB’s Spurs as a long-term project, it might not be the most ludicrous assumption that he almost certainly doesn’t see us as the same. Let’s enjoy it while it lasts.

Reasons to be cheerful

AVB has mostly been a good appointment and he is a respected and affable person to have at the helm. The team he surrounds himself with seem well liked and respected internally, and most of the noises coming from Hotspur Way appear to be positive ones.

This season he needs to achieve something, though. The squad is now very much *his* squad (or at least his and Baldini’s), and to be argued to be a success, he needs to deliver a trophy and/or a top 4 finish.

COYS.

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  • Jill says:

    I think it was AVB’s mistakes that cost us 4th last year and I fear that he is repeating the same mistakes so far this year. For example I believe he is selecting too many key players for the Europa league which seems designed to ensure that ‘upstart teams’ are too tired to tackle the status quo CL teams. The young players you mention should be getting starts in the EL. And then there is falling out with key players while persisting with others. Parker playing in just about every game last season after Sandro’s injury when Huddlestone and Livermore were often better alternatives cost us dear. And even more so playing Naughton not Benny, and now loaning Benny to QPR – INSANE. Whatever the truth with Ade we need him fit and playing. JD has never worked on his own upfront and I fear the same may be true of Soldado, he certainly isn’t working with the lack of cut back crosses and the high balls. As I know you have said before with wide players who tuck or cut in the full backs are needed for crosses so the loss of Rose who started the season really well is costly. Personally I prefer wingers mainly played on the ‘normal’ side to encourage them to go wide rather than cut in. Oh and we need Sandro playing from the start. And I think as you say AVB fails to change his tactics when they aren’t working in matches, I totally agree with your comment about Mourinho. I find that despite us having what I believe to be the best squad in a long time I am very depressed and negative about our prospects and that is down to AVB. Oh and while I wasn’t delighted by his appointment I had a pretty open mind – I’d have preferred Laudrup tho’. I always say that there are times when I want to be wrong and I hope I’m wrong about AVB.

    • WindyCOYS says:

      I totally agree about mistakes last year (for me the biggest was loaning Townsend out) and worry about the BAE decision too. Difficult to criticise him too much re: Ade as it could be that he’s done right by him and that JD’s comments were foolish or taken out of context.

      I don’t think there’s need for ‘depression’ just yet, we just need to keep things ticking over and look to improve in key areas – especially set pieces.

  • Davspurs says:

    What a great insight from Windy and the blog above i agree with most of whats said. But my biggest fear is our high line pushes opponents back into there half and slow build up leaves no space for our Winger or wingers to attack. The worse offender is Dembele he gets the ball runs 20 yards at speed stops waits for chasing midfielders. He then when he looks up to pass they are all marked. When we sold Hudds i was sick aged 26 -27 this December he was at is peak and my only concern was is ankle well its still holding up and hes spraying the ball allover the pitch. I thought Erickson or Holtby would provide plan B when the long accurate passes ad been sold but we make to many dead passes sometimes playing keep ball in our half getting isolated and then give the ball away. Just like Naughton did at Carrdiff When we Purchased Soldado we should played both to see if they strike up a partnership like Liverpools SaS. Now we cnat experiment because if we get beat we start we drift away from the top four. We are already in a bad place with 100 million pounds of talent but still trying to find the best 11 ten games in.Lets hope they get used to the manic pressing in the premiership and show us there You Tube Form . Coys

  • Matt says:

    Have to say I don’t really agree with everyone’s concerns about AVB… If he’s up to the job is a different matter, but I don’t think you can question his knowledge of tactics and styles… Last year I think we played something like 5 different formations through the season… He also changed things far more than Harry would have done,.. He was 4411 or 442 all the way… AVB has changed formations and subs to make a difference a number of times… What about the Man City game… Won us the game, no question… What about the subs against Cardiff a few games ago which we won? Ok, I thought the subs were too late and we won by a single goal deep in injury time… But we still won and it was Holtby & Lamella who’d just been brought on who created it… Fans have very short (& selective) memories to suit their agenda… If we are do tactically poor, before the West Ham game (which I admit was awful) how had we only conceded a single goal and only lost 1 game (by 1 goal)… Before the west ham game I was really happy with how we were doing seeing as we had so many new faces, we’d only get better.. Think that is still the case…

    • Ramos 43 says:

      Completely agree, my friend. Fans are a fickle bunch, on the most part, which is usually down to a lack of knowledge on just how football works.

      For example – one minute they are slagging Levy off for the way he has ran the club, next minute they are kissing his backside for his astute business acumen!

      New squads with 9 new players (inc Rose and Townsend)should UNDERSTANDABLY (I think) take time to settle.

      But because we have enjoyed a reasonably good start to the campaign, I believe SOME people think the side has already gelled (completely).

      There is much work to be done before we will see the FULL potential of this amazing group of players we have assembled.

      WE MUST BE PATIENT!!!

    • WindyCOYS says:

      I did reference the Cardiff game and considered the City game too as that was a definite positive change. Not sure why I didn’t include that.

      I am mostly very positive about AVB (as you’ll probably know), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t concerns.

  • Ramos 43 says:

    Good article! However, to cut a long story short, AVB has PROVED in the past that he IS flexible, open to change and willing to adapt, and I have NO doubt that he WILL continue to do so!

    At 35/36 years old Villas-Boas is still relatively inexperienced as a manager, and, as a result, is still learning very much on the job. What he needs is supporters who SUPPORT and believe in his potential to take this club to another level and don’t question him at the first sign of adversity.

    This is the first REAL season where he has been able to build a team in his own image and therefore he deserves the opportunity to develop the squad over the period of a few seasons (at least)

    Whether he is the perfect manager I suppose is up for debate, but what manager is?

    MOST managers seem to buy into this unwritten law that tactical substitutions shouldn’t be made until the 2nd half of a game, but that DOESN’T mean he doesn’t tinker with the gameplan/ players positions during the course of the match (i.e. 1st half)

    The team/squad like is new/young,talented and full of potential- just like AVB himself.They will NEED time, patience and encouragement if they are to develop/evolve as we ALL would like. MANY of you would do well to remember that!!!

    The season has JUST started, and barring the West Ham display the team has played well WITHOUT probably getting as many goals as we arguably have deserved.

    Including Rose and Townsend, the club have introduced NINE new players into the squad. Considering that I think we have done REMARKABLY well to find ourselves in a healthy league position, and progressing well in the cup comps.

    GIVE THEM TIME…I KNOW I WILL

    • WindyCOYS says:

      When you say he’s proved that he’ flexible, when do you mean? Totally agree about your point that h’s learning, and I do have belief that he can turn some of these issues around given time… just worry that he won’t have that time because of his tendency to not stay too long…

      Agree totally though that no manager is perfect and think that he’s one of the best we could have… that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t point out what we think are flaws though, right?

  • PhillyHotspur says:

    Spot on article.

    Huge fan of AVB, but he is definitely too rigid at times w/ his tactics especially when they’re not working

    It seems that these games at the Lane vs the lesser clubs, AVB could switch it up to more of a natural 4-4-2 and bury the box with balls. Use Lennon and Townsend on their natural sides, roll w/ Soldado / Ade up front and let Sandro handle the clean up duties (like yesterday vs AV). Of course, a few big names wouldn’t be involved, but there are plenty of fixtures to involve every one and keep things fresh.

    In the end, reacting to your opposition’s tactics vs forcing your tactics to work makes much sense .

    Lets see if that Plan B materializes.

    • WindyCOYS says:

      Cheers Philly.
      Definitely think the traditional 4-4-2 is worth a go sometimes although you know I’m not its biggest fan – just worth it for the variety.

  • yodaniel says:

    Hey, Windy.
    Does the Villa game change your opinion on any of these points?
    Admittedly didn’t need a plan B in this game because we did manage to scrape a goal against an 11-man defence.
    But I thought the initial selection showed a good response to at least one of the recent issues with the team.
    Switching Vertonghen to left-back isn’t ideal, but it does solve the problem of Naughton’s inability to use his left foot/ overlap/ cross on the run.
    That extra width gives the midfield & centre-backs more options, and the impact on the team’s shape outweighs what we lose from Vertonghen not playing in his strongest position.

    More of the same vs Hull, I expect. We’ll need a piece of brilliance or a lucky break to get the first goal, after which things will get a lot easier. This is why being able to score from set pieces would really be very useful… watching our corners vs Villa, there didn’t seem a problem with delivery (all beat the first man), but we didn’t connect with any of them.

    • WindyCOYS says:

      Agreed, I was pleased with the team selection – Naughton and Sandro especially. Vertonghen wasn’t great, but he naturally creates more spaces as he plays 5-10 yards wider than Naughton, and offers an outlet for Sigurdsson and co.

      Totally agree with your last point – what a boost it’d be to score the occasional goal from a set piece. We must attack the ball better.

  • bonse says:

    Overall I like AVB. I want to like him and I wanted him to start something, i expected a slow start, and while last season felt a slow start we topped the seasons’ before points tally, a lot of people will point out we didnt qualify for CL but if you take more points from the same number of games you have to see it as improvement.

    Specifics-wise, I think he has shown adaptability in parts, 433 didnt work early on with who we had and a 442 was adopted, reworked and rephased slowly back towards the 433/4231 depending. And substitutions have, i feel, generally been the right ones, just a little too late for my own taste. We can each name completely bewildering moves, as often as we can point to outright inspired ones, but these are both the exceptions and generally it’s not a matter of who i would bring on/off as to when that the difference is.

    I like that he wanted a specific structure for the club including Director of Football, I like that he shares the same vision as Daniel Levy seems to and by adding Baldini there now feels a united push towards something sustainable, the background making the foreground stronger, and in turn making the background stronger and so on.

    What I don’t like is the feeling that we stutteringly have accepted that 1-0 isn’t enough to win a premiership match, pick up one goal and sit on it. We talk about the killing second goal, which by my mind we have only started to go for in recent matches, but in all honesty I don’t think 2 goals has been a big enough lead to win a match for some time, not least for a spurs team, i’ve seen a 3-0 lead become a 5-3 defeat once too often and quite frankly, i’d rather see us defend in their penalty box than in our half. Once this sit on a lead thing passes, and i do believe it will, and we have 90 minute pressure games I will be satisfied, I don’t think that is in AVB’s make up, i think at some point he needs a goal difference to say right, my instincts tell me to sit on this lead for the end of the match, we’ll take off a striker and put on a defensive midfielder.

    Personally I vote this point to be signified by a 5 goal lead, but, yeah…

    • WindyCOYS says:

      Many excellent points as usual.

      I’d love for us to be a little less pragmatic and a little more ruthless, but it does potentially open up an element of risk. Although with the players we’ve got, that risk should be minimal.

      I think now Soldado has a goal in open play, the floodgates will open – feel sure he’ll go on a scoring run now. I also think it’s inevitable that before long we’ll be playing with either Eriksen, Lamela and Townsend in attacking midfield or Lennon, Eriksen and Townsend which could lead to a little more dynamism and a more fluent attacking outfit. Not that I think Sigurdsson’s been particularly bad, just that I don’t think he’s *quite* as good as we could put out.

      • bonse says:

        I agree with you about Siggy, I like him, and he has the turn to do something special, we’ve seen it once or twice this season, but I am not certain he is best suited to the position he is playing and there are better players available in the ones he is suited to.

        I would be interested if when he was signed whether it was a question of should you take over as manager, who would you be interested in bringing in? or if it was a case of, we are currently in negotiations to bring in siggy, yes or no?

        My suspicion based on absolutely nothing more than gut feeling was that he was brought in to cover and eventually replace VdV over a 18-24 month period, then when VdV left as he did they needed someone to cover right there and then and so Dempsey came to fill the gap and rather than absorbing the cultured play that shadowing VdV may have gifted him he shadowed a player he was already very similar to but wasn’t quite the exact fit we needed, I don’t mean to sound overly harsh on Dempsey here by the way.

        What to do with Siggy? for me he is becoming like Barmby, potential that is being pushed out to the left because there’s nowhere else for him to go really, he’s done nothing wrong particularly, my only criticism of him in any of the positions he plays is he is slow to take up a position in the box when a cross is coming in, always trailing in after the ball has been crossed to the only available option rather than reading it a little quicker and presenting a second with a darting run, which he is not alone in being guilty of.

  • […] wrote back in October that AVB needed to find a Plan B, citing the following reasons as to why I had some concerns over the direction we’re […]

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RT @thfcacademy: Brief highlights of yesterday's UEFA Youth League draw with Real Madrid: https://t.co/WTLbLDwkPr
18 Oct 2017