It’s a footballing cliché that’s whipped out with all the gusto of a fourth round of Turkey sandwiches, but the saying goes ‘you can only beat who’s put in front of you’. And despite the woeful performance of Aston Villa yesterday, nobody should take anything away from Tottenham Hotspur’s superb 4-0 Boxing Day victory at Villa Park.
Andre Villas-Boas’ side will do well to encounter a more feeble attacking threat for the rest of the season, but while Paul Lambert’s men did little to combat the effervescent passing and devastating forward surges that Gareth Bale and co exhibited, the fixture most importantly represented another win and another clean sheet.
But it also denoted the continuation of what is quickly becoming a domineering theme of Spurs’ season so far.
Because while the home support have seen little of yesterday’s attacking swagger and positive forward momentum at White Hart Lane, those who have followed the Lilywhites away from home, were treated to a gallivanting display to match the likes already seen at Fulham, Manchester United and Reading this season.
While Spurs haven’t picked up more points on their travels than within N17, their peak performances when playing away from North London seem to have far exceeded anything resembling their top gear at White Hart Lane. With the side currently sitting fourth in the Premier League as we head into the final moments of 2012, it’s not something that should necessarily blunt optimism.
But with yesterday marking the 19th league game of the season, it is a feature that’s now lingered up to the half way mark in this term’s campaign.
Again, while it’s somewhat difficult to use yesterday as a real barometer of Spurs’ season so far, the attitude of the side away from home seems to be in distinct conflict to what fans have been witnessing at home. Be it the 4-2-3-1 set-up that Villas-Boas has used for the majority of the term or the 4-4-2 like formation that’s been whipped out in recent weeks, the outcome has remained the same.
At home, the side look neat and tidy, yet seemingly tied down into a remit of restrain and caution. Away from White Hart Lane, Spurs still look neat and tidy, but with a license to attack, push on, take risks and try and burst on through at defences, rather than playing pretty patterns in front of them.
Many of the deeper-rooted problems at Spurs are still present wherever they play and the need for a creative yet most importantly effective, No10 like player are in effect home or away. The side struggle to break down teams happy to set out two banks of four and for all their marvelous statistics yesterday, it took a smattering of positivity from Aston Villa before the ball started rolling. Indeed, marvelous statistics such as leading the corner count 15-1 at half time mean nothing without a goal.
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Although despite this, parallels are still there to be made between Tottenham’s victory over Villa away from home and the corresponding victory at White Hart Lane back in October. Both ties saw Spurs come out with three points, but at home, we saw a far tamer, subdued and cautious side, compared to the expansive team who produced four goals away from home. Some will point to a change in formation, but the recent 0-0 snoozefest against Stoke suggest that the recent switch to 4-4-2 isn’t quite the overnight fix many might like to point out.
But in terms of the general attitude of the team, maybe this is something that Andre Villas-Boas could tweak when Spurs play host to Reading next month. Tottenham haven’t had an easy ride in the full-back departments so far this term, but one of the features of some of their impressive away-day performances, has been AVB’s willingness to let them really drive on and attack their opposite number.
While at home the defence continues to sit relatively high up the pitch, neither Kyle Walker or his makeshift left-sided compatriot Jan Vertonghen, have really felt as if they’ve foraged with the same positivity that we saw at Villa Park yesterday, or even in away fixtures against the likes of Southampton and Fulham (in which Kyle Naughton came into the fray).
Furthermore, the general tempo of play away from home, seems to far exceed the usual pace that’s been served up to home fans. The Villas-Boas method of going hell for leather before shutting up shop when playing away has had its critics, but more often than not the side have always enjoyed a period of notably increased attacking output. At White Hart Lane, while supporters haven’t quite been starved of forward thinking play, the tempo of play never seems to shift out of a very neat and tidy, but somewhat tepid second gear.
Again, this isn’t to directly critique the manager nor is it serving to ignore some of the issues the side face that can’t necessarily be solved until the transfer window opens. Although with half the season now already behind us and a sense of momentum quietly building in the background, now wouldn’t be a terrible time for Andre Villas-Boas to take the shackles off this Tottenham side.
With a brace of forthcoming home games against Brian McDermott’s struggling Reading side and the visit of Coventry City in the FA Cup, Spurs have a real opportunity to come bursting out of the blocks in the New Year and look to ease their stuttering performances at White Hart Lane. It’s going to take more than a bit of added managerial positivity. But should AVB do his part, then maybe a supportive, yet sometimes frustrated home crowd, can help do the rest.