The mainstream media hardly needed an excuse to wrap up Tottenham Hotspur’s clash with Chelsea this Saturday in a fiery bubble of hyperbole, but given the managerial backdrop to proceedings, the fixture certainly has a little more added spice added to it. Not that it needs any extra seasoning, of course.
Indeed, as Andre Villas-Boas meets his former employers for the first time since his unceremonious departure from Stamford Bridge, it feels all too easy to get carried away with the sideshow. But for Spurs supporters, the game against the men from West London offers far more than an explosive London derby. It represents the club’s first real test against esteemed competition at home in the league this season and a fair barometer of how the side are getting on under their new man.
As much as he may want to downplay it, it’s impossible to ignore the added poignancy that Villas-Boas’ presence will bring to the game this Saturday. The Portuguese carries a steely air of self-assurance and while he portrays a sense calm and collectiveness on the exterior, you get the impression that beneath that lies a fiery, driven and unrelenting character. His ego will be demanding a victory over a club and a chairman he believes ‘gave up on him’.
With both sets of fans baying to use the AVB factor as bait and several players of this Spurs team looking for redemption after the 5-1 FA Cup humiliation last April, make no mistake about it, there feels like there is a lot riding on this fixture. For Chelsea also, victory at White Hart Lane would perhaps fire Roberto Di Matteo’s team into the realms of early season title favourites. You’d also imagine there are a few in the Blues’ dressing room that wouldn’t mind getting another one over their departed old boss, either.
But although supporters will be desperate for Villas-Boas to send his side out all guns blazing this weekend, from what we’ve seen so far this season, that might not be the case.
Spurs currently sit in a very healthy equal fourth placed in the Premier League after seven games, including four wins on the bounce and an unbeaten run that now stretches to six matches. But for all the momentum that’s beginning to generate in N17, their home form has been, shall we say, cautious.
Villas-Boas’ side’s best performances by quite some distance have been the 3-1 win away to Reading and the first 60 minutes in their superb 3-2 win against Manchester United at Old Trafford. But the Portuguese has appeared reluctant to exhibit the same sort of attacking impetus that we’ve seen the side deploy on their travels and while fans can’t knock the results, it hasn’t quite catalyzed a rocking White Hart Lane at any point this season.
What’s been Villas-Boas’ school of though at home then? It feels as if the Portuguese is looking to develop a solid foundation at White Hart Lane and maybe a collective, watertight sense of defensive wellbeing, before letting his side off the leash. And to his credit, Spurs have incrementally improved at home, slowly adding a bit more craft and guile to their neat and tidy build up play.
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Yet although the boos have subsided, the cheers haven’t necessarily exploded, either. White Hart Lane felt uncharacteristically flat during the 2-0 victory against Aston Villa and as much as the team is a work in progress, it feels as if the fans are also taking their time to adapt to a more refined Tottenham Hotspur. But that’s exactly what they have been developing into. And supporters must keep patient this weekend and beyond.
Because the chances are that Tottenham probably won’t come flying out the traps akin to the Harry Redknapp days and they might not be flinging themselves at Chelsea in the same manner either, but that isn’t necessarily a negative. Villas-Boas is slowly crafting this Spurs team into a smarter, stronger and more intelligent beast.
The central midfield pairing of Sandro and Mousa Dembele may lack the highlights reel tackles of Scott Parker or the easy-on-the-eye craft of Luka Modric, but they’re slowly becoming key components in a formidable Tottenham midfield. Spurs have both talent and craft, but they’re also developing a sense of solidity that’s not been seen in White Hart Lane for many years. They look like they can finally boss a game and control their opponents. And against Chelsea this Saturday, we’ll get a chance to see just how effective that can be at home to a team challenging at the top end of the table.
Roberto Di Matteo’s attacking contingent at Chelsea has caused teams enough carnage this season and the likes of Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and the fledgling Oscar, have the capacity to really damage Spurs. But supporters have seen the Redknapp fight fire with fire approach one time too many and although they’re home record against Chelsea has been good in recent years, they now have the tools to try something different. It will be a massive test, but Spurs can beat Chelsea by playing to their newfound strengths and overpowering the midfield.
Getting their offensive unit in complete sync at home has proved tough, but with both Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon springing into form, they look to be improving with each passing game. Emmanuel Adebayor may offer a more effective skillset against a well-drilled Chelsea backline, but with Jermain Defoe continuing to score, they have options up front and a fully working ‘Plan B’ either way.
Tottenham Hotspur are undergoing an evolution under Andre Villas-Boas and this Saturday offers the perfect gauge as to how far that evolution is progressing and maybe just as importantly, a peek into the future. Perhaps more than anything, maybe some fans simply haven’t been quite so sure of what to make of their new look side at home so far this season. A win over Chelsea on Saturday would go a long way to demonstrating exactly where Andre Villas-Boas plans to take this team.
What do you think about Spurs’ home form under Andre Villas-Boas? Do they have enough to beat Chelsea this Saturday? Let me know on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and tell me what you think will happen.