The Premier League can often be the cruelest of mistresses and as both Tottenham Hotspur and Andre Villas-Boas know only too well, it doesn’t care much for mistakes and misfortune.
A win against Arsenal on Saturday in the North London derby, could have seen the Lilywhites haul themselves back to within a win away from fourth, open up a four point gap over their rivals and give themselves a springboard to finally turn their disappointing run of form around.
Instead, a chastising 5-2 defeat at the hands of Arsene Wenger’s men awaited and despite going 1-0 up courtesy of Emmanuel Adebayor’s prodded effort, the big Togolese striker proceeded to leave both his team and most poignantly his manager, in a real hole of concern.
Of course, a three-match ban isn’t particularly welcome at any point of the season, but you can’t escape the feeling that Adebayor’s mindless lunge on Santi Cazorla couldn’t have come at a more crucial point in the season for Tottenham.
Make no mistake about it, the upcoming home games against West Ham United and Liverpool, followed by the trip to West London for the tie with Fulham, represent a make or break moment for Andre Villas-Boas’ Spurs side.
Should they loose to Sam Allardyce’s Hammers side next Sunday, the league table might not paint a very pretty picture at all. A run of results which is by no means beyond the realms of reality, could see Spurs sit tenth come this time next week, with the potential for a nine point gap between themselves and Champions League qualification to emerge.
And given the pressure that is slowly beginning to mount on Andre Villas-Boas, having the term ‘must-win game’ shoved down his throat is hardly going to help. But unfortunately, the inescapable reality is that the West Ham game is a must win tie for Spurs.
No one can deny that the Portuguese has had some relatively torrid working conditions that have contributed to his side’s difficult start to the Premier League season. The injuries that the likes of Younes Kaboul, Scott Parker, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Mousa Dembele and until recently Emmanuel Adebayor have picked up, hardly constitute the loss of squad players. That’s more or less five first team players that Villas-Boas has been deprived a consistent use of, let alone the prospect of the quintet lining up in the same XI together.
Furthermore, the failures of chairman Daniel Levy within the summer transfer window are hardly some urban myth, either. Villas-Boas has been left with mish-mash squad uncomfortable in fitting in with the brand of football he was brought to the club to introduce, courtesy of a needless game of transfer brinkmanship which has served to do nothing but balance the books and weaken the team.
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Unfortunately for the former Porto boss, sympathy is an emotion that remains difficult to find within the Premier League. The term ‘results based business’ sounds more at home in a Martin Scorsese film than it does within the realms of English football, although league tables and history books don’t look back on circumstance. Villas-Boas has to find a way to get his side winning games through whatever means necessary.
If Spurs fail to win against both West Ham and Liverpool, which considering how poor their home form has appeared is hardly out of the question, then both Villas-Boas and his side are in big trouble. Regardless of whether you’ve warmed to him, feel sorry for him, despise him or long for something else, the omens most certainly wouldn’t look good should results go against him in the next three games. Games which on paper, his side are more than capable of winning.
Such has been the inconsistency that the teams around Tottenham have shown in recent weeks, a run of three straight wins could see them propelled straight back into race for fourth, with the perfect platform to push on towards the busy festive period. But they’ve got to come through the next couple of weeks.
It’s time for Villas-Boas to make the sort of tough calls and cut throat decisions in which careers are defined and seasons are shaped. In the future, there is no reason why he can’t try and cultivate this Spurs side towards the 4-3-3 remit in which he was seemingly brought in to cultivate. But unless he gets through the next few games, he might not have a chance to try and rectify things in the January window, let alone the near future.
He has to be ruthless and he has to make sacrifices. Michael Dawson might not be the sort of defender that offers a long-term solution to a possession-based way of playing. But he’s a fighter, a thoroughbred and he’s surely the sort of man you want in the trenches when West Ham come calling this weekend. Worry about playing the ball out from the back when the squad has recuperated from injuries – not during a set of make or break fixtures.
Again, Emmanuel Adebayor’s moment of madness has left Villas-Boas in the mire up in the striking department. But now isn’t the time to persevere with playing Jermain Defoe in an ineffectual role up front on his own. Go 4-4-2, play Dempsey alongside him as he did in the second half against QPR and go for the jugular. Of course it’s not an ideal world and it’s not building the vision that Villas-Boas clearly craves for the club – but unless they start picking up performances, he might not get a chance to build for anything.
Emmanuel Adebayor’s suspension represents simply the latest hindrance in the perpetual environment of turbulence of which Andre Villas-Boas has had to work in since coming to the club. But instead of looking into the future, he has to try and mould a team for the present, starting with this weekend’s fixture against West Ham.
Is the West Ham game a must win fixture? How would you set Spurs up without the suspended Emmanuel Adebayor? Join me on Twitter and tell me what you think.