Sometimes going back to basics is the best option for moving forward. At Tottenham, Andre Villas-Boas was clearly indulging in the convoluted tactical setups that came to hand with such a myriad of attacking options.
But Tim Sherwood, upon the former’s dismissal, has scrapped all that – for now at least – and gone with the tried and trusted, a basic formation that is far more linear and much more likely to bring results from a group who are still unfamiliar with one another.
The loss at home to West Ham was the result of a two-day hangover from Monday’s parting with the Portuguese manager. It was understandable. Even more so because the team were still likely to be reeling from the 5-0 loss at home to Liverpool. But Tottenham’s ability to bounce back at Southampton with a 3-2 win will leave most feeling that there is a lot to be salvaged.
A balance was struck with the formation, largely because it appeared most of the players knew what they were supposed to be doing – one of the primary faults of the backend Villas-Boas’ tenure. 4-4-2 isn’t the archaic stain on progressive football it was only a few years ago. Teams like Manchester City are using it to good effect, and if you have the personnel – a rangy frontman, even one who polarises opinion – then it’s no shame to deploy such a tactic.
For all his effort in the win at Southampton and the two goals that came with it, it’s still difficult to see Emmanuel Adebayor as a long-term solution for Spurs. He is, however, a solution for the now, and yet reservations should still be held. It wasn’t just Villas-Boas; other managers in the past have fallen out of trust with the Togolese striker, not just because he can be lazy, but because he’s so poorly advised. His presence, coupled with his inconsistency on the pitch, can be an unbearable weight.
But what was promising from Tottenham’s performance on the whole is that important figures were reinstated into the starting XI, and those who have been regulars have looked far more involved. Roberto Soldado may have missed a handful of chances, and had Spurs lost or even drawn, the knives would likely have been out for the Spaniard. But the promise is that he had opportunities to score, where in the past he was simply an isolated figure roaming almost aimlessly looking for scraps.
Erik Lamela and Adebayor played their individual parts in allowing the former Valencia striker to look his liveliest in the Premier League this season, and there can also be a lot taken from his ability in the build-up play: his assist for Adebayor’s first as excellent.
There will be time to slowly develop an intricate way of playing – something that is surely the aim at Spurs based on the players bought in the summer. For now, though, there is a good base to build on, one that has brought instant results in the league. Take little stock in the performance of a weakened Southampton; Tottenham took the win for themselves when the initial phases of the game pointed towards the home team taking all the points.
A decision will have to be made by Daniel Levy on the Sherwood front. To reiterate, a better team would have given Tottenham far more to worry about and the win isn’t necessarily a good indicator of what Sherwood is capable of. But what can be seen, especially in the face of the previous manager, is that there is a formula to getting the best out of this group of players. Maybe not the formula that’s desired by everyone, but one that can act as the foundation to something more enterprising.