Nearly three months into the season, despite some turgid results – most notably our recent loss at home to Wigan – I still haven’t lost faith in AVB.
As with recent occurrences after a poor performance Twitter is awash with the usual “AVB hasn’t a clue, AVB out, we are worse than with Harry”. I wanted to take the moment to try offer an alternative view to that is shared by the more considered Spurs fans as opposed to the nonsense spouted on Twitter and championed on “Harry friendly” TalkSport by Adrian Durham, the chief piper to the clueless brigade.
To assess Villas-Boas you need to look at what he’s got or in this case what he hasn’t, lets look at our creative players who we’ve lost as I believe these are the key. You simply cannot overlook the loss of both Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart. Look at the lot down the road after losing Fabregas, Nasri & RVP, they are a shadow of their former selves – snigger, how we laugh, yet that’s the situation we’re in. Let’s make no bones about it – Modric was our creative hub. He dictated the play, gave players like Bale and Lennon the confidence in setting off on runs 5 seconds early in knowledge that he would probably pick them out and in addition, something that is often overlooked, made other teams so concerned about his whereabouts that they often concentrated too much on him to even think of Lennon, Bale, Defoe & Adebeyor. Losing a player of that calibre had a multitude of effects on the squad. Not being able to replace him like-for-like has of course altered the way we play and until a player of similar ilk is signed then we don’t have the creative freedom that Luka offered.
As for our dear Rafa, this was a player that made marking and picking up very difficult for he almost had the freedom of the park as he ghosted from one place to another taking either a centre back or midfielder with him again allowing players like Bale, Lennon and even Parker and Modric to run into space left in his place. I can’t emphasise what a clever player he was, not just the obvious with his left foot, but the ability to calm the game down, the turn into a space and a pass to see someone off down the wings. Again, not replacing this type of player was always bound to have a big effect on the type of performances this season.
To give you a similar scenario, imagine Barcelona losing both Inestia and Xavi, the creative driving force of the team gone and replaced with very good players but of a different style… I’m sure we’d see a different style of play from what we are all fortunate to see at the moment. Go one step further. Take out say Iniesta and put Huddlestone in, see how slow the build up would be. The short intricate passing and slipping the ball into the channels wouldn’t happen, it literally becomes a game changer.
I think the most simplistic point is: goals win games. Goals need providers and providers need someone directing them like a conductor in an Orchestra or how Italy’s Andrea Pirlo single-handedly ripped England to pieces at Euro 2012 with clever, insightful passing that made our entire midfield and defence redundant.
In their place is Dembélé. He is a wonderfully talented driving midfielder who adds a whole new dimension to our game but we still haven’t got anyone to creatively drive Tottenham, no one to slip balls into the channels for Bale, Lennon, Walker and Assou-Ekotto to run into. Huddlestone may have a range of passing not seen at The Lane in recent years, however his turn of pace and ability to keep up is not sufficient enough for a team like ours, I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve heard ‘I’ve seen ships turn quicker than Huddlestone” and joking aside it’s true. How many times did we see Luka or Rafa feign to go one way then move into space another? It’s simple and clever football.
Looking at the recent loss of Dembélé and the effect this has had on Spurs I quote from OptaStats:
Whilst Dembélé obviously helps Villas-Boas implement his ideology at Spurs, his absence has led to weaknesses going forward and, as a result, conceding goals has become more of an obvious problem. Most notably, the weeknight defeat to Norwich at Carrow Road was suffered after two late goals were allowed by Spurs, the first goal being a replica of the one which Hughton’s side scored in September at White Hart Lane (in the exact same minute, too (83′) ).
His passing stats show this is something that has had a large knock on effect.
If you look at AVB’s all conquering Porto team you’ll be familiar with his creative linchpin – a certain João Moutinho, arguably one of the players of the Euro 2012 tournament this Summer. He is also a player who we came so close to signing in the Summer. I believe if we had signed him we would have been looking at a completely different scenario right now.
It’s at this point, that it’s worth pointing out to the AVB haters that I would literally bet my children, wife, car & house on the fact the recent playing of Huddlestone and Livermore etc is not AVB’s first choice and he’s doing the best with what assets he has to hand – there’s a term that’s almost applicable “you can’t polish a turd” and that’s where we find ourselves at present until Dembélé’s return and until hopefully a creative midfielder arrives in January. People can’t keep having a pop at AVB when you look at who’s playing in these critical positions.
Hopefully Dembélé’s return will herald a more dynamic centre midfield again (remember the Manchester United game?). It’s incredibly easy to slate the manager, and yes he has made mistakes, however if you can only put out average players then we have to accept what comes our way.
This article was worked on either side of our 3-1 win at home against Maribor and it enabled me to rather fortunately watch the midfield with the freedom that allowed Lennon and especially Bale total domination whilst attacking. Tom Huddlestone was able to freely distribute the ball as you would expect and some of his passes were sublime. However, I paid particular attention to Tom Carroll who for me was a real shining light in the middle. He gave us something that I haven’t seen since Modric left and that was a centre midfielder running from left to right, forward into space to retrieve the ball then distribute it off into an attacking area. His slightness – much like Modric’s – made it even more similar in this play, picking up the ball and not only spraying passes but also short intricate one, two-touch passes to team-mates.
Huddlestone for me is a great player. Almost a luxury player but there are times like last night’s game that a quicker direct approach is needed, especially if the midfield sits off you allowing you space to drive forward into. An interesting option depending on the opposition would be to have a three man central midfield of Sandro, Dembélé and either Carroll or Huddlestone. This would allow Sandro to cover and Dembélé to drive whilst Carroll and Huddlestone take care of the creativity. However, this means losing a second forward. Something not ideal for home games but away at teams like Man City or Arsenal packing the midfield could work.
Defoe’s hat-trick goals was the culmination of a slick move out from the back with Adebayor controlling and passing to Huddlestone who first time hit a direct pass into the path of Bale who crossed for Defoe to tap in. This is exactly the type of play I refer to earlier with the quick dynamic play, ball into the channels to utilise the pace of Bale or Lennon. If AVB can somehow strike the right balance, then these type of attacking possession is sure to bring more success than already seen this season.
So in summary, I would say January’s transfer window could be one of the most important in a long while as AVB really needs to secure the services of a creative midfield maestro.
I’ve seen many a name mentioned from Moutinho to Christian Eriksen of Ajax. All players who would offer that rare creative general we so desperately need. Let’s get behind Villas-Boas and the team, and not let the boo boys get the team down and we become famous for this recent unattractive tag we’ve been given.
Here’s hoping to January sucess. In AVB I trust.
Come on you Spurs.
Dembéle stats courtesy of EPL Index.