On the face of it, sacking a manager who has achieved league finishes of fourth, fifth and fourth in his final three seasons at the club seems absurd. However, repeated questions about Redknapp’s tactical naivety (not least from this website), his open courting of the England job, and missing out on Champions League football due to throwing away a 13 point lead over their local rivals, all led Spurs to make the change.
Andre Villas Boas has been drafted as the man to push Spurs on from top four challengers into genuine title contenders, after a short stint in the impossible Chelsea renovation job. Unlike at Stamford Bridge though, he doesn’t join an ageing long-ball team requiring a complete overhaul, although the imminent loss of Modric will be an early challenge. One game is far too soon to make any definitive judgements on the new-look Spurs, but are there some hints of a change in approach?
The result isn’t enlightening: Fourth vs fifth isn’t the friendliest opening fixture of the season for either side, and losing 2-1 away from home isn’t a crisis, particularly when you create the better chances and hit the woodwork twice. New season sharpness in finishing will come, but the fact that chances are being created, without being too open at the back, is a net positive for Villas Boas.
Bale wide or wandering? A major issue in the late season collapse was Redknapp allowing Bale to come infield from the left. This took him out of the role he is best at – driving at right backs with pace, stretching the play and providing crosses – and instead caused congestion in the middle of the field which allowed opposing defenders to get tight and narrow, and also restricted the space available to Modric and van der Vaart. Ironically, Bale’s creativity might be more useful infield this season in the absence of Modric, but it’s difficult to say on the evidence of one game whether or not Bale will spend this season providing width or coming infield.
He seemed to stay wider than he did towards the end of last season (save for a period where he switched wings), but it’s inconclusive thus far.
A change in approach from van der Vaart? The burden of creativity in a Modric-less Spurs seems to have affected van der Vaart’s role. Witness the comparison below:
The Dutchman tended to avoid the short passes of last season and immediately looked for longer passes forward or wide to spread the play quickly. Admittedly the comparison is not perfect; van der Vaart was introduced against Newcastle as Spurs chased the game, whereas in the comparison match, he started and Spurs led throughout. But there still seems to be marked difference in his passing which is worth keeping an eye on as the season unfolds.
Oddly, van der Vaart replaced Sigurdsson, who created twice as many chances in the match than any other player (with 4), despite only playing 68 minutes. A good creative debut.
There are signs of a change of approach from Spurs under Villas Boas, Bale seemed to stay wider, van der Vaart wasn’t trusted to start (his lack of 90 minute fitness is famous), and when introduced he seemed to play in a more direct style than last season. One match is certainly too little time to definitively say either way, but there are signs of a change already.
Sorry Newcastle fans, there hasn’t been a change at your club worthy of filling an article. However, the point about a tough opening fixture is equally valid, and starting the season with a win over a rival is not to be sniffed at. Ba’s goal bodes well if his partnership with Cissé can blossom, and the midfield still looks strong with Ben Arfa, Cabaye and Tioté. Now if you could stop your manager assaulting linesmen when he doesn’t get borderline throw-in decisions, it could be an even better season than 2011/12…