Tottenham Hotspur’s short trip west towards the Madjeski Stadium this Sunday offers Andre Villas-Boas’ side the perfect opportunity to finally get their stuttering league campaign off the ground. Life hasn’t been easy on both club and manager so far this term and glimmering pre-season optimism has been dealt something of a reality check, as the Lilywhites have racked up a disappointing two points from three games.
But what exactly has Villas-Boas learnt from the first three games so far? Brian McDermott’s Reading side will be no pushovers but the Portuguese should have more than enough in his side, to head back up to North London with all three points.
Although there has been room for encouragement in the first few fixtures, his side has been blighted by a lack of balance and a lack of fluidity. The Portuguese has to learn from these lessons demonstrated since the beginning of his stewardship:
The holding pair must create, not just negate
It may not seem like the most cutting of observations to be made over the past three games, but the dynamic between Sandro and Jake Livermore has been a real issue in the balance of this Tottenham side. Many supporters have raised eyebrows at Villas-Boas’ perceived insistence on playing two defensive midfielders at home, but the truth is, they’re not both supposed to simply snuff out danger and break up play- they’ve got to create it aswell. At times during the Norwich game, it seemed as if neither particularly knew when to sit and when to go and the lack of a puppet-master or a man to start moves from deep has harmed the side going forward. Both Sandro and Livermore have great credentials defensively, but without a more creative influence in the holding pair, the 4-2-3-1 is rendered relatively ineffective. Moussa Dembele has the skillset to possess a massive influence from deep and he must start with one of the existing two, most likely Sandro, this Sunday.
Defoe has a role to play in this squad, but not in this formation
Jermain Defoe always seems to represent one of the most uncomfortable realities at Spurs; his almost unrivalled popularity within N17 sometimes caters to more than a little bit of rose tinted vision. But the truth is that the England hitman simply can’t be leading the line for Tottenham up on his own and Emmanuel Adebayor must be drafted in as soon as he’s match fit. Defoe’s skillset is unique and any player with his finishing and ability to create something out of nothing will always have a place in the squad. But Spurs need a frontman with a more varied set of tools and Defoe simply doesn’t fit the bill leading the line on his own. He’s at his best chasing on to through balls and running at defenders- not holding the ball up, bringing others into play and playing as a unit. He can’t be faulted for playing in a role that hasn’t suited his natural game in the past three games but he simply doesn’t and hasn’t contributed enough to the rest of the team. With a heavy fixture list and the ever-constant threat of injury, Defoe will play his fair share of football for Spurs this season. But if he is finally match fit, Adebayor must start on Sunday.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, Andre
Villas-Boas may well be something of a victim to Daniel Levy’s transfer brinkmanship, but that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t been bulletproof himself. You can argue that his most defining tactical decision, the move to a 4-2-3-1, has certainly been harmed by a failure to bring in the correct players to let it prosper. But in some respects, both the goals that Spurs conceded in their home draws to West Bromwich Albion and Norwich Cit,y were catalyzed by his substitutions. His decision to take off Jermain Defoe for both Jermaine Jenas and Tom Huddlestone respectively simply seemed to invite pressure on the side and on both occasions, the Spurs defense caved in the final moments. The subs, made at times when Spurs were under pressure but not necessarily rocking, seemed to be tinged with a sense of nerves. No one can blame Villas-Boas for bestowing such anxiety to get the monkey of a first home win off his back, but in both occasions, it felt difficulty to see why Defoe was taken off. There was method in the madness of bringing on another midfielder to shore things up but we’ve seen time and again what a brilliant outlet Defoe can be in relieving his side under pressure. If the side goes into the last quarter against Reading with a narrow lead, Villas-Boas must stay strong and he must stay positive.
Willie’s G-Force isn’t gone, but it’s certainly dwindling
It’s not as if William Gallas has produced a series of DVD bloopers in the first few fixtures, but it’s difficult to see why he continues to command a place in the starting XI. Jan Vertonghen already looks more than assured enough to need the so-called experienced head playing next to him and it’s been hard to see where Gallas’ perceived leadership skills have been, if they were indeed ever there, during the first three games. When Spurs started caving in against West Brom, the Frenchman certainly didn’t seem able to bring any form of cool-headed calm or organization to his back-line- certainly not in the same way Michael Dawson would be able to. His inability to cope with the rampaging Romelu Lukaku also brought back horrifying memories of his performance against Chelsea in the FA Cup last year and he seems to be struggling against the more physical of centre forwards. The argument is of course that Dawson doesn’t fit the new defensive system but whether or not he does have a genuine future under Villas-Boas, they have a ready made, game-ready replacement for Gallas in Steven Caulker. Like with his substitutions, he must remain positive and if he feels like he fancies a more commanding centre-half for the trip to Reading, he can’t hesitate but to field Caulker. He fits the system, he has the ability and he’s more than ready to play.
One of the most notable bits of criticism aimed at him during his time at Chelsea was his perceived inability to learn from his mistakes. Instant fixes don’t exist in this league and the transformation process at White Hart Lane won’t happen overnight. But if he can demonstrate his adaptability and understanding to learn from what has gone wrong, there’s no reason why his side can’t get up and running with a great performance this weekend.
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