Tottenham moved into the top four over the weekend after a 3-0 win over London rivals Fulham, making it three victories on the bounce as the team finally start to hit their stride under their new manager, who hasn’t always endured the best of receptions from the media and the club’s fans, Andre Villas-Boas.
We cannot underestimate the pace of change at the club over the last few months – new manager, new coaching staff, new training ground, new players, new style of play and a new system – yet despite all of this, they sit just behind a struggling Chelsea side in third place on goal difference and they no longer look like a team in search of an identity, increasingly comfortable in their new skin.
For people in favour of cyclical narratives, the 35-year-old boss is trying his best to disturb the meagre measure of praise he’s managed to extract from a media in the thrall of former Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp. He represents the antithesis to everything the anointed one has come to encompass over the past few seasons. Notice the agenda-pushing that’s been on display so far, trying to paint the Portuguese as some sort of clueless clown. It’s not journalism, rather a concerted effort to fabricate and manipulate some sort of ‘club in crisis’ theme – something which the media craves each and every season now it seems.
The best examples were (and are) the wedges being driven about the goalkeeping debate between Hugo Lloris and Brad Friedel, the fact that he has been leaving Emmanuel Adebayor out in favour of the on-fire Jermain Defoe and when they accrued just two points from their opening three league games, including home draws against Norwich and West Brom. You see, the vast majority of the press don’t want Villas-Boas to succeed at Tottenham; it doesn’t fit in with everything they’ve said about him ever since he arrived in England and didn’t fancy being their best friend. They don’t want to be proven wrong. They won’t change tack, they just lie in waiting, looking to pounce with the same old tired and quite frankly hugely flawed arguments for whenever the side next slips up.
Credit must go to Villas-Boas for the job he has done, though, under considerable pressure. The honeymoon period at White Hart Lane was virtually non-existent and while most managers normally get a fresh start at a new club, it was impossible not to already have an opinion on him and the job that was he sacked for doing at Stamford Bridge last season before his first game in charge this term. He’s followed warm and cuddly figures in quick succession into each of his last two jobs and been hindered all the more for it – Carlo Ancelotti and Redknapp – and his stand-offish approach means criticism is never in short supply.
There’s a growing sense of maturity to the team’s play this term and you sense that the counter-attacking style that they’ve adopted suits the players that they have at their disposal down to the ground. For every win over someone like Manchester United, there have been avoidable capitulations against Chelsea and Manchester City, but these are just part and parcel of being a club in transition, there will be setbacks throughout this campaign, but finding that crucial consistency either side of them is what makes the difference.
The biggest setback of all would have to be the 5-2 hammering that the side had to endured for the second successive season at the Emirates, but the responses of each side since that game tells you everything you need to now about the mental strength of both squads.
The game was turned on its head courtesy of a mad and deserved red card for Adebayor, but with the pivotal Moussa Dembele restored to the side from injury, Tottenham have drawn away at Lazio in the Europa League and beaten West Ham, Liverpool and Fulham in the league. Arsenal on the other hand, though, followed that result up with a decent 2-0 over Montpellier in the Champions League, then disappointing draws against Aston Villa and Everton before going on to lose 2-0 at home to Swansea.
The response tells you everything you need to know. The Tottenham squad appear to have faith in their young and forward-thinking manager, while Arsene Wenger is becoming an increasingly divisive figure among the club’s fans and the two teams are on completely different trajectories at the moment.
They remain far from the finished article at the moment and they are still recovering from the loss of Luka Modric, often lacking an element of control in the middle of the park while looking worryingly susceptible at the back to the slightest bit of pressure, but they are slowly but surely heading in the right direction.
Nobody sums up the transition that the side are currently going through more than striker Jermain Defoe, a player many, myself included, have had doubts about in the past and his ability to contribute anything other than the occasional powerful finish when the side is on top, but with nine league goals to his name so far, assuming the mantle of leading the line by himself, he looks a player transformed.
They will need to strengthen in January should they have the money to invest, while the returns from injury of the likes of Scott Parker, Younes Kaboul and Benoit Assou-Ekotto, three key figures last term, cannot come soon enough, but with the top four party seemingly open to a gatecrasher or two this season, Villas-Boas is presenting a strong case that Tottenham will be playing Champions League football by this time next season.