Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Norwich at White Hart Lane was alarming, not necessarily for the nature of the result, but for the nature of the performance. As Andre Villas-Boas looks to implement a new system and a reformed style of play, the easing in process was never likely to go without teething problems.
The worry for some supporters is quite how painful those problems are going to be and the short-term damage they may cause. But like all trips to the dentist, we often carry apocalyptic expectations when the realities aren’t quite so sinister at all.
Firstly, it is important to try and dispel some of the urban myths that have currently been floating around Villas-Boas and the already maligned 4-2-3-1 formation that he’s adopted at the club. The fickle tides of change and seemingly unrelenting media agenda against Villas-Boas has seen the events against Chris Houghton’s Canaries on Saturday, represented as an overwhelming motif for the season so far.
That is as unfair as it is unrepresentative.
Tottenham ultimately put in a performance on Saturday that could be described as poor at best. No one is denying that. But those that are already pining for the ‘swashbuckling’ days of the 4-4-1-1 to return, can’t ignore what we’ve already seen. For 45 minutes against both Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion, Spurs employed a generally impressive, composed style of football that dictated those respective halves for long periods.
Norwich was again, not a particularly fantastic barometer, but the cause for genuine concern would be if the team weren’t creating chances as opposed to looking somewhat disjointed. Tottenham have created chances too; maybe not in abundance, but they have been able to harvest opportunities. After hitting both the bar and post at St. James Park, losing to a soft penalty was hard to stomach for supporters. The team, in particular Gareth Bale, fashioned a whole array of early chances against the Baggies at home, but were incapable of finishing anything off – inviting the sort of pressure that seems to have led us to where we are today.
But as the transfer window has slammed shut, Villas-Boas finally has a completed squad to work with and seemingly a set of players that can fit the system. The argument over Daniel Levy’s brinkmanship will rumble on for many months in N17, but however you frame it, Villas-Boas was missing the players to make his new set-up stick for the first three games of the season. It’s not been easy for him and consequently he’s been forced to use several cogs that haven’t fit the machine.
One such example can be found in the holding ‘pair’ that sit in front of the defence but behind the front three. For the first three games this season, Villas-Boas has teamed Sandro with Jake Livermore to relatively mixed reviews. A concept that can be misunderstood with the holding two in this formation is their responsibilities within the team. They’re defensive by name but not necessarily by practice and the formation doesn’t require a couple of archetypal Claude Makelele figures in there to just break up play.