The definition of insanity is to try the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.
Tottenham’s Andre Villas-Boas seems to think that the best way to break down tough, defensive opponents is his inverted 4-2-3-1 system. Performances have proved otherwise.
Sometimes the opposition can neutralise your attacking threat. Sometimes the keeper has one of those days where he is reactions are lightning-quick and his arms stretch the width of the goal. However, despite dominating possession in nearly every game this season (second highest average after Manchester City) Spurs have only scored nine goals in ten games.
This is all despite having more shots per match (17.5) than anyone else in the Premier League. The problem is a lot of those shots are from distance and rarely trouble the keeper.
Take out three Roberto Soldado penalties and an Andros Townsend cross that drifted in, and the goal statistics are frightening.
So what can AVB do? With one of the strongest squads in the league, helped by the reinforcements signed with the money from Gareth Bale’s world-record transfer to Real Madrid, the ex-Porto and Chelsea boss has chopped and changed his league starting XI.
Townsend came in for Aaron Lennon, Gylfi Sigurdsson for Nacer Chadli, Lewis Holtby for Christian Eriksen, Sandro for Moussa Dembele, Jermain Defoe (for one game) for Soldado, and yet the same problems remained. A lack of tempo, a lack of forward passes, a lack of crosses, a lack of players in the box, a lack of width and a lack of goals.
The 4-2-3-1 has many plus points, and seven clean sheets in the league and the second fewest shots conceded in the league indicate that Spurs have a defensive solidity that is the primary reason why they currently sit fourth in the league.
But laboured wins over Crystal Palace, Swansea and Hull (all single goal wins from penalties), the humiliating 3-0 defeat at home to West Ham and some worryingly tight wins in the Europa League, despite a clear gulf in relative playing ability, should trouble Villas-Boas more than the lack of support from the White Hart Lane crowd.
Only late on in the West Ham defeat have Spurs played with both Defoe and Soldado on the pitch, Emmanuel Adebayor remains persona non grata, while Tottenham’s three subs on Thursday night as they beat a poor Sheriff side 2-1 (with 76% of the ball and 19 shots on goal) were all like for like – Paulinho for Etienne Capoue, Holtby for Eriksen, Harry Kane for Sigurdsson.
There was no change in system, no change in style, and only a bit of fortune and some excellent individual skill from Erik Lamela broke an organised but limited Moldovan defence.
At home, against defensive teams, Spurs start too tentatively. The lone striker is swamped by opposition defenders. The inverted wingers are forced back and shown inside into the masses, while the number 10 has to go deep to get on the ball. Tottenham get to 35 yards of goal and shall not pass.
Wingers do not like to go down the line, the full-backs do not get high enough up the pitch, the two central midfielders do not make an effort to get up with and beyond the lone striker, and there is a general absence of responsibility that means players do not take risks, do not trust their team-mates, and the fear of conceding is far greater than the hope of scoring.
A trip to Man City will provide a good test of Tottenham’s defensive resolve, and AVB’s preferred 4-2-3-1 system is appropriate. However, at White Hart Lane Spurs should be more ambitious. A change of fortune and the results will soon turn on their head.
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