With 29 goals to their name, only Manchester’s finest have scored more times than Tottenham this season. Finishing therefore has not been a problem, but finishing the game with a similar level of prowess is an altogether different story. As I am sure you’re well aware, Spurs would be top if games had ended after 80 minutes but does this reflect badly on the manager or is it solely down to the players once they step across that fabled white line?
The nightmare relationship between Andre Villas-Boas and Chelsea continues to haunt the 35-year-old to this very day. The main subject of criticism derived from the tactical upheaval that ensued following his arrival in English football. The old heads at the club rebuffed his desire to play with a youthful exuberance and instead set apart orchestrating his downfall.
To his credit, Villas-Boas has ploughed the same path in North London, refusing to abandon his playing philosophy or man management style. However, his new side have conceded 10 goals in the last 10 minutes of nine league games, which has effectively cost them a total of nine points.
During his opening 16 games in the league, the Portuguese manager has made a relatively high 45 out of a possible 48 substitutions, prompting many to condemn his inability to change or rather preserve the scoreline as the game nears its conclusion.
However, the art of the effective substitution is an unappreciated art form. The player must immediately adjust to the rapid tempo of the game when seconds earlier he was picking his nose on the bench. Managers on the other hand are keen to inject a fresh pair of legs into proceedings but will always be wary of upsetting the balance or rhythm of the team.
It’s a catch 22 scenario. If you make changes and they backfire, you’ll find yourself labelled as incompetent. But if you do nothing, fans will lament the apparent lack of a plan B, as they did under Harry Redknapp. Villas-Boas isn’t afraid to make bold changes but this will inevitably increase the chances of mistakes being made. Supporters will do well to remember that against Newcastle, West Brom and Norwich, Spurs scored shortly after new faces emerged from the sideline.
The one criticism that I would direct solely at Villas-Boas concerns the lack of a ‘fear factor’ he harbours within the squad. I imagine the dressing room hairdryer is used for the sole purpose of tending to his amber locks, rather than the verbal ear bashing that is an important weapon in the arsenal of any successful manager. The post-match reaction against Arsenal is the perfect case in point. Villas-Boas made a point of shaking the hands of his players, praising their effort when it was painfully obvious that the work-rate wasn’t acceptable. Could you ever picture Sir Alex Ferguson acting in the same manner? It’s one of the many reasons United always seem to turn games around. The 70-year-old still emits that aroma of authority.
The players at a club of Spurs’ stature should be perfectly capable of grinding out results. There are a number of potential leaders in defence, with the likes of William Gallas and Jan Vertonghen having both been part of title-winning sides of the past. It’s time for such individuals to step up and perfect the ugly aspects of the beautiful game in order to repeatedly pick up points.
It’s worth noting the key members of the squad that have been unavailable this season. Despite his advancing years, Scott Parker is one of the most valuable defensive barricades in the league. Likewise, Younes Kaboul – another long-term absentee – is as important to Spurs as Vincent Kompany is to Manchester City. Both teams look increasingly fragile without their man mountains at the heart of defence.
The club continues to rue the departure of Luka Modric, with his wonderful ability to maintain possession proving just as vital as the ability to win it back. In addition, the exile of Michael Dawson is difficult to understand, especially as his wealth of experience could provide stability when others seem to lose their head in the latter stage of matches.
The overwhelming view from an ‘outsiders perspective’ is that this is not a new issue for Spurs. The club have been plagued by defensive insecurities ever since Mario Balotelli stroked home a last-minute penalty to win the game for Manchester City way back in January.
While there is only so much Villas-Boas can do from the touchline, he still has a duty to install confidence in his side when he makes tactical alterations. Similarly, the players must quickly remove this monkey of their back or risk falling foul of the fine margins in football because the club and its supporters know all about the detrimental fallout that comes with finishing fifth instead of fourth.