Every manager goes through good and bad spells. For the Tottenham manager, Andre Villas-Boas, he is currently on one of his worst.
Coming to Tottenham one year ago, he had a successful first season and shared a mutual respect and friendship with the Welsh Wizard, Gareth Bale.
Life without Bale has not been so fruitful. Spurs currently sit ninth in the Premier League, and have one point from their last three matches, which included a 6-0 schooling from Manchester City.
Equally distressing has been the divergence from the Tottenham way. Spurs are known for reviving beautiful, fast-paced, attacking football. This campaign has been quite the opposite, scoring only nine goals, and three from penalties. Roberto Soldado has been quiet and a lack of service means that the vast majority of their shots are from outside the box. And the worst news for Tottenham fans: there are no signs of them turning it around.
For Villas-Boas to keep his job, he needs to make major adjustments. The biggest change must come in formation, because there are simply not enough opportunities for breakaways and link-up play.
Currently, Tottenham play in a 4-2-3-1. The favored striker is Soldado and they have used a variety of players on the wing, the most consistent being Andros Townsend. Paulinho has played every minute of every game as a midfielder. The number 10 role has switched hands, and is one of the major problem positions, despite Tottenham's abundance of midfield options. The defense has been solid against most teams (it has had only two games allowing more than one goal), playing a high line. Once Danny Rose returns to the lineup and allows Vertonghen to play center-back, there should be no problems there.
The primary issue to address is the lack of service. Lennon's return has helped in the creativity department but not with goals. Soldado has not had many chances in on goal, and here in lies the main problem. A proven finisher, the Spanish striker has been forced into positions where he cannot get a decent shot off.
Andros Townsend and Paulinho have shot the most on the team. While some attribute it to selfish play, their shots are necessary. They keep the defense honest, and create chances through defensive error. The fact that a these players are Tottenham's best chance of scoring, rather than record signees Erik Lamela and Soldado, is unacceptable and it is due to the formation.
The play becomes too crowded for the Lily Whites in attack and they are forced into 30 yard, slim-chance shots. Therefore, they should switch to a 4-3-3, where there are three primary attackers with many chances to link up. It also allows them to go from defense to offense quickly; so far their build up play has been at a sluggish pace.
It would allow Lamela to play his natural position of winger, in an advanced position where he has proven he can hang with the best. He is another signing that has struggled to make any sort of impact at White Hart Lane. Placing him as an attacking winger rather than a wide midfielder would allow him to expend all of his energy on the offensive end, instead of forcing him to help on defense, where he is uncomfortable.
Spurs would than have their choice of Lennon or Townsend on the other wing. Townsend is much more likely to attack the center while Lennon will take a defender one-on-one to try to get a low cross in. Choosing between these players would depend on the matchup as each provides a totally different skill set.
With either combination, Soldado would have two attackers beside him, rather than being isolated. Instead of having to play from sideline to sideline, he would stay where he belongs, in the penalty area. He would at least be able to get more touches in the box.
The midfield would sit deeper, which could hurt Gylfi Sigurdsson and Christian Eriksen. Both are attacking midfielders who cannot play defense. If Villas-Boas needed more attacking options one game, one could play as a a midfielder that sat a little higher up than the others. From there, they could play clever balls to unlock the defense and provide long range shots.
The other midfielder positions would be primarily central as well, although deeper. One spot would always be occupied by Paulinho, Spurs best signing this far, while Sandro, Moussa Dembele, and Etienne Capoue could compete for the other position. Again, these decisions are situational. Many times, against attacking sides, three of these four players would play simultaneously, at the expense of the more attacking midfielder.
The defense would not have to change much. It would probably sit a little further back because of the lack of help from the wingers. However, it shouldn't be a problem for a defense of this quality (although they didn't show it against City, Tottenham still has a top-class defense when healthy) and actually could relieve the pressure of the high line.
Why should Tottenham use a 4-3-3 instead of a 4-4-2? Aren't two strikers better than one?
Tottenham has thrown two strikers on multiple times this season, to no avail. If Soldado is looking for positive link up play, he will not receive it from Defoe. Defoe is a pure shooter, and is not always interested in creating chances for others. Adebayor is a better passer, but it is questionable if he would be too frustrated sharing the ball with another striker to contribute positively.
The 4-2-2 has been experimented with and failed. It's also been tried in practice and if it were that easy, AVB would have already switched. Instead of beating a broken drum, there needs to be a dramatic change, and a 4-3-3 certainly would be.
Andres-Villas Boas should not be shy to use such a system. His Porto side perfected it. If he ever wants to replace #11, and prove to supporters that he was deserving of PSG and Barcelona interest, AVB must switch the formation.
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