Tottenham Hotspur are an unpredictable club. Rampaging football one day, lethargy the next. Victory at Old Trafford against Manchester United, defeat to Wigan at home. Unbeatable in the first half of the season, cannot buy a win in the second.
On Saturday, Andre Villas-Boas’ side struggled to beat an energetic and aggressive Southampton. The match was set to be another dagger in the heart of Tottenham’s Champions League bid until a rare piece of Tottenham skill, naturally coming from the left boot of their award winning forward Gareth Bale, won the game. It was more than Spurs deserved but it earned the north London club the three points, and that was all that mattered.
A first clean sheet in the league since February 3rd was most opportune, however had the Lilywhites faced a side more clinical in front of goal Spurs would have struggled to draw, let alone win.
Southampton were on top for the first hour, their pressing game under Mauricio Pochettino stifling Spurs who found themselves outnumbered in central midfield with the Saints playing a 4-1-3-2 formation. They created several clear cut opportunities, and it was not until the introduction of the enigmatic Emmanuel Adebayor that Spurs finally placed a foothold in the game.
This is not the first time Tottenham have struggled against bottom half opposition, especially at home. There was the aforementioned defeat to Wigan, the 0-0 draw with Stoke, the 1-0 loss to Fulham, a tight 1-0 win against Swansea, 1-1 draw with Norwich, as well as draws at Wigan, QPR, and Norwich.
On the flip side, AVB’s men have beaten Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool at home, drawn with Everton and Manchester United, while beaten United, Swansea and West Brom away, and lost late on against Everton and City. Judging by those results, it is clear that the Portuguese manager is happier coming up with a plan to counter the opposition rather than one to dominate them.
This is in stark contrast to his predecessor, Harry Redknapp, who looked to have a rip-roaring Plan A but had no back-up should the initial tactics not work. While Spurs were fluid and open under Redknapp, they are more restrained under Villas-Boas, and have grinded out more results than either the manager or the fans would be happy with.
That’s why Wednesday’s game at Stamford Bridge is so exciting. Rafa Benitez is rotating his side to deal with the demands of playing two times a week, while Spurs realistically need to win their game in hand to overtake rivals Arsenal and finish in fourth place. Chelsea will be buoyed by their win over United on Sunday, while AVB will be doing what he does best - analysing the opposition in minute detail, aiming to negate their strengths and exploit their weaknesses.
It would be typical Tottenham if they were to beat Chelsea but then drop points away to Stoke or at home to Sunderland on the final day. It would also follow a pattern of this season where Spurs have excelled when the underdogs but struggled when labelled with the favourites tag.
As thoughts slowly turn to next season, Villas-Boas will be looking to introduce more fluidity to his team. The return of loanee Andros Townsend will add more options out wide, while the ex-Porto manager will hope to add at least one new striker to his team and perhaps a playmaker as well.
The former scout has experience of concocting a winning formula with a team that is expected to dominate – he won the treble with Porto after all – so it must be a problem with the balance and quality of his Tottenham squad that has led to so many dropped points against ‘weaker’ teams.
If Spurs can add consistency alongside their competitiveness against the big teams they will be aiming higher than just fourth place. However, as any Spurs fan will tell you, consistency has been Tottenham’s eternal problem. If Villas-Boas can find a solution, he will go into the pantheon of great managers.
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