Even though the Champion’s League dream didn’t come to fruition in the end, and despite whatever Adrian Durham says, I think most Spurs fans would agree that Andre Villas-Boas’ first season at the Lane has been a success. Although Gareth Bale was the obvious star of the team, AVB deserves credit beyond simply getting Bale to play at an outstanding level.
Here are the five reasons why AVB has been a success at Tottenham:
1. The passing game has made Spurs a more consistently dangerous team. Under Harry Redknapp, the side’s passing game was essentially based around one man: Luka Modric. He’s certainly not a bad player to base a team around, but what he did so well was moving the ball quickly from flank to flank. AVB has installed a more patient, probing passing game based more around the system, and not on a player.
One issue under Redknapp was that if Modric was out, or getting marked out of the game, or just having an off day, everything would fall apart. This season’s team has been able to rotate players without losing the threat with the ball.
AVB’s system has also allowed Spurs to have more of the ball in nearly every game. The team’s possession stats show this: At home Spurs averaged 52 percent possession, while away from home they averaged 53 percent possession. While those certainly aren’t dominating possession stats, they do show that team has an identity in the way in it wants to play with the ball, and it doesn’t change away from home.
2. AVB has been flexible both tactically and with personnel. Throughout the season, Spurs have played any one of a 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, 4-4-1-1, and 3-5-2. This kind of tactical flexibility has shown AVB’s competence both on the training field and in-game. He’s changed the way the team sets up based on the players available, the players in form, and the opposition. An obvious example was the move of Bale to a second striker, but when Bale went out injured late in the season, AVB brought in Lewis Holtby and changed to a 4-3-3. Or when Sandro went out injured, AVB changed the dynamic between Mousa Dembele and Scott Parker, allowing for both the break forward in support. He’s also changed midgame, as the Manchester City game proved with devastatingly good results.
Perhaps more important than his tactical flexibility, AVB has stuck with players in good form and dropped players who weren’t playing well. The re-inclusions of Michael Dawson, Tom Huddlestone and Gylfi Sigurdsson have been a radical change from last season.
AVB has also remade players in an effort to keep form players in the team. Bale here is the obvious example; but he also made Sigurdsson into a wide player willing to put in the defensive work, and played Holtby across a few positions in midfield.
3. He’s rotated throughout the season, allowing Spurs to fight on multiple fronts. All season, AVB has changed his defense based on the opposition. Against bigger, stronger teams, he would bring in Steven Caulker to play along Michael Dawson, and move Jan Vertonghen to left back. Against quicker teams, Vertonghen would move back into the middle, and Benoit Assou-Ekotto or Kyle Naughton would come in at left back. This kind of rotation happened throughout the team, and AVB was keen to not play too many players too much.