Talking tactics: How will Spurs approach their first home game under AVB?
Tottenham may have been disciplined and well-organised under their new head coach at Newcastle, but that will only get them so far at White Hart Lane tomorrow. So what’s the plan of attack?
Andre Villas-Boas’ reign at Tottenham may have begun with a disappointing defeat at Newcastle, but the result was harsh on the visitors and there were plenty of encouraging signs.
Villas-Boas employed the same 4-2-3-1 system through-out pre-season, but Saturday’s performance was a huge improvement on all of the displays in the warm-up games, particularly from a defensive point of view.
Having been worryingly open in the 2-0 defeat away at Valencia in their final friendly, Tottenham were far more compact, organised, resistant and aggressive without the ball at St James’ Park.
The fact that the returning Olympic silver medallist Sandro was available to replace Jermaine Jenas was a key factor, but Aaron Lennon, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Gareth Bale also hunted the ball relentlessly, and as a unit.
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The result was that Newcastle had very few sights of goal in the first half and took 45 minutes to win their first corner. Meanwhile, Spurs’ formation also produced the best from their offensive players, particularly on the counter-attack.
In many ways, the first half was pretty close to the perfect performance away from home. All that was missing was the goal that the visitors deserved, with Jermain Defoe and Gareth Bale finding the woodwork instead of the net.
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The game was effectively lost due to poor defending in the second half, but they were individual errors - there was nothing wrong with the shape of the team. The overarching tactics worked well and, despite the result, that bodes well for the future.
So everything is great and we consequently expect Spurs to beat West Brom tomorrow?
Well, no, because Tottenham will face the Baggies at home, in front of their own fans at White Hart Lane, and that is a very different challenge which requires an entirely different approach.
The Lilywhites may have generally impressed on Tyneside, when the plan was to soak up the pressure and hit the hosts on the break, but how will they cope now that the onus is on them to take the initiative, attack and break their opponents down - particularly in the absence of Luka Modric?
We do not really know, because Villas-Boas is yet to take charge of any home games at Tottenham, even in pre-season.
The new head coach has now faced Stevenage, LA Galaxy, Liverpool, New York Red Bulls, Watford, Valencia and Newcastle – and on every occasion he has been in charge of the away team, apart from the friendly with Liverpool on neutral turf in Baltimore.
Tactically, he will now need to show a different side of himself – another page of his coaching manual - because organisation, resiliance and pressing will only get Spurs so far this weekend.
To beat the Baggies at the Lane, Spurs need creativity and incision – and this is the very area they are short in as they seek a conclusion to the Modric saga, and a replacement.
So will the head coach stick with his 4-2-3-1 formation once again, with both Sandro and Jake Livermore in the side? Or is that too negative for a home game of this nature, where anything less than three points will be viewed as a failure?
Now that Emmanuel Adebayor is onboard, might the head coach be tempted to change tack and go with two strikers, pairing the returning Togo international with the in-form Defoe? Or would that leave the hosts overly exposed – as it did when they lost 2-1 against Norwich at the Lane back in April?
Redknapp wrestled with these very issues last season, and it will certainly be interesting to see how Villas-Boas tackles them in his first home game in charge.
The early indications are that the formation will remain the same, but that it will be subtly adapted to give Tottenham a more attacking look.
“I think the 4-2-3-1 formation became fashionable because of the way it offers more balance, and I consider it not to be as attacking as a 4-3-3,” said Villas-Boas.
“But depending on who you put behind that striker position you can make it a little bit more aggressive, and depending on what you do with the full-backs you can make it a little bit more aggressive.
“These two sitting midfielders are normally people of cover, but last year Harry used it with Modric being creative from that position, so that is another way to make it even more attacking.
“It was almost like one player sitting and another one free – and Harry used it to great success. There are obviously different ways to approach it.”
The absence of Modric’s ingenuity could be keenly felt tomorrow – more than it was at Newcastle, when the focus was on discipline and organisation.
However, Villas-Boas can still add creativity and an additional goal threat to his side by selecting both Sigurdsson and Rafael van der Vaart and shelving one of his holding midfielders – probably Livermore.
Of course, Van der Vaart would be ill-suited to replacing Livermore in a like-for-like swap, given the defensive responsibilities that come with the position.
However, Sigurdsson occupied that deeper-lying role to accommodate the Dutchman in pre-season – he started alongside Livermore against LA Galaxy - and that system could give Villas-Boas the necessary balance between defence, shape, possession, creativity and attack.
Whatever happens, with this one home game to play before the transfer window closes and Modric is hopefully replaced, the new head coach has plenty to ponder as he tries to identify a short-term, winning formula to beat the Baggies.
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs