Andre Villas-Boas came to England as one of the most sought after managers in Europe.
Success on all fronts with FC Porto had him on the radar with many of Europe’s top teams. However, only Chelsea were willing to stump up the £12 million required to release him from his contract with the Portuguese Champions and Europa League winners.
We all know what happened next as Andre Villas-Boas lost the senior players in the dressing room, the fans and finally the owner’s patience.
With his stock severely damaged, he now takes the reigns of a Tottenham side voted the most entertaining to watch by Premier League Managers.
So what exactly will Andre Villas-Boas bring to Tottenham?
AVB and 4-3-3
Andre Villas-Boas has utilised his 4-3-3 system at both FC Porto and Chelsea, but how does it work?
Starting at the back, Andre Villas-Boas utilises a back four whereby the full backs push up looking to join the attack and help press without the ball. He did this at Porto with Alvaro Pereira and Cristian Sapunaru performing the task superbly. At Chelsea, he went with Ashley Cole and Jose Bosingwa, favouring the faster Portuguese full-back over the less mobile Branislav Ivanovic.
In midfield, he likes to utilise a central three who operate at different levels. Firstly there is a defensive ball winner, who can drop in to help the centre backs when the full-backs are pushed on to avoid a 2v2 situation.
Secondly there is a playmaker who’s job it is to distribute the ball wide for crosses and through to a number nine.
Thirdly, there is an attacking player used to drive on and create overload situations with the forwards.
The front three consist of a central number nine and two wider forwards. The central striker is there as an outlet and to score goals, whilst the two wider players have different functions. With the ball, Villas-Boas usually instructs one to go inside to help the central striker, whilst the other moves wide to stretch the play and avoid congestion.
At FC Porto he had Hulk on the right and Silvestre Varela on the left. At Chelsea he utilised Juan Mata on the left and Daniel Sturridge on the right. The left-sided player of the three was more of a winger, whilst the right-sided player a more natural forward. At Chelsea, Daniel Sturridge made several comments that he’d like a more central role whilst playing on the right of the front three.
As Hulk was at FC Porto, Sturridge was more of a striker than the left-sided player in the formation and so able to cut in and score goals. When Sturridge wasn’t available, Andre Villas-Boas would bring in another striker, Nicolas Anelka to play that right-sided role of the front three.
Without the ball, the wider forwards are to pressure the opposition full-backs in order to get them to pass back to the goalkeeper or hit the ball long downfield. Both of these events will usually result in turning possession over, as a pass back to the goalkeeper will inevitably be kicked downfield if there is no out-ball.
Andre Villas-Boas has flirted with changing his formation to a 4-2-1-3 when he has wanted to really press the opposition defence. Near the end of his Chelsea reign, he also experimented with a 4-2-3-1 with the team’s inability to play the high defensive line.
Andre Villas Boas teams enjoy possession
Andre Villas-Boas sets his teams up to control the ball and to be in possession of it. That way the opposition are less likely to hurt you, whilst also moving the opponent around looking for ways to break them down, tiring them out in the process.
Whilst at Chelsea last season, the Blues averaged 57% possession during his twenty-seven Premier League matches in charge. This saw them third equal with Swansea in that period for having the ball, leaving just Man City (59%) and Arsenal (58%) enjoying more domination.
Spurs did enjoy more possession than their opponents last term, having the ball 54% of the time. The Lilywhites did play a more direct brand of football under Harry Redknapp though, so it will be interesting how they will adapt to Villas-Boas’s more cautious approach.
A new brand of probing tempo-based football will be on display next season at White Hart Lane.
Tottenham will be crossing more
During his twenty-seven Premier League matches in charge at Chelsea, Andre Villas-Boas set his side up to put in crosses. In this time, only Liverpool attempted more crosses than the Portuguese’s Blues. The Reds were attempting 29 crosses per game, with Chelsea putting 26 balls in to the box per match.
Up until Andre Villas-Boas was sacked, Tottenham were ranked fourteenth in the Premier League, averaging just 20 crosses per game, six less than AVB’s Chelsea.
A high defensive line and pressing
Andre Villas-Boas and his use of a high defensive line have been well documented by many people, including myself during his ill-fated time at Chelsea. With his penchant for pressing through pushing on the full-backs and having the centre-backs play high, Villas-Boas paid with his job.
The system and ideology wasn’t wrong, it was just that he didn’t have mobile enough players to perform their functions. John Terry, David Luiz, Branislav Ivanovic and Alex were all too slow, whilst Jose Bosingwa was able to cover the ground, but just wasn’t good enough defensively.
Teams really did exploit this, West Brom in Chelsea’s second match were the first team to really highlight it. The Blues edged the match 2-1, but West Brom got in several times behind the high Chelsea line by bombarding them with balls over the top. They just couldn’t make them pay, with Peter Odemwingie, Shane Long and Youssouf Mulumbu failing to convert 1v1 chances with Petr Cech.
Even at Old Trafford on Match day 5, Andre Villas-Boas still did not defer from his system and Man Utd used the long ball over the top to great effect.
Against Arsenal, John Terry’s slip on the half way line with no cover on gifted Robin van Persie a goal in the 5-3 loss to also highlight Chelsea’s high-line problem. Whilst Liverpool also emerged victorious from Stamford Bridge, after keeping faith in the ball over the top of the Chelsea defence in the last ten minutes to break a 1-1 tie.
Andre Villas-Boas will bring his pressing game and high defensive line to Tottenham; he just needs to ensure he has the players to work the system.
What Andre Villas-Boas already has at Tottenham
First up, Andre Villas-Boas needs two athletic full-backs who are able to create overloads in wide areas when in possession, whilst pressing the opposition without the ball. In Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Kyle Walker he has two of the quickest over the ground in the Premier League, both of who get involved in the attack and can play defensively.
He also needs two mobile centre backs in order to play a high defensive. With both William Gallas and Ledley King slowing down and Michael Dawson struggling with a long-term injury, he only really has Younes Kaboul and Steven Caulker to work with. Caulker had an excellent on-loan season with Swansea last year and could find himself playing a role in the first team this season.
In midfield, Scott Parker and Sandro are perfect for the defensive role. Luka Modric, if he can be convinced to stay, would operate in the playmaker role; something Andre Villas-Boas wanted him for at Chelsea.
Rafael van der Vaart, whilst not ideal, could be used in the attacking role to create overloads in wide areas. However, new signing Gylfi Sigurdsson will most likely get the nod. Sigurdsson really likes to play through the inside-right channel, as we saw when looking at how he had become the most potent weapon at Swansea last season.
For the front three, Andre Villas-Boas has Gareth Bale tied up on a new four-year deal to work the left. Jermain Defoe could be used as the central striker, but is perhaps slightly undersized for the role. He could be used to fill the right-sided position, cutting in to support a number nine, as Hulk, Daniel Sturridge and Nicolas Anelka have done for Villas-Boas teams in the past. Aaron Lennon would also compete for this role though, so Defoe could once again find himself on the bench.
His Tottenham side would probably line up like this right now, with several question marks over two of his front three, his playmaker, centre-back and goalkeeper.
What Andre Villas-Boas still needs to create ‘his’ Tottenham team
Andre Villas-Boas is still going to need several players in order to get his system to work at White Hart Lane.
First up, he is going to need a more mobile goalkeeper. Brad Friedel had a great season last year, keeping 14 clean sheets in the Premier League, bringing structure and sturdiness to the defence not seen with recent Spurs stoppers. The American is forty years old though and not mobile enough to act as a sweeper when balls are played over the top of a defence playing a high line.
Secondly, he will need another mobile centre-back; Jan Vertonghen has been heavily linked with Spurs and should cover this need nicely.
Thirdly, if Luka Modric leaves, then he will need a playmaker in the middle of the park. Joao Moutinho would fill this role and has been outlined as a target by his old boss, but would take most of the money from the sale of the Croatian. Modric took a while to get used to the physicality of the Premier League, a player like Moutinho, while gifted, may need time to adapt.
Finally and maybe most importantly, Andre Villas-Boas will need a striker to play the number nine role and possibly a forward for the right-sided position of the front three. Aaron Lennon is a highly mobile player, but prone to injury and doesn’t score enough goals, which is something the right-sided forward has to provide.
Daniel Levy made a bold decision to axe a manager who had steered the club to three successive top five finishes in the Premier League.
Andre Villas-Boas will certainly change Tottenham in personnel and playing style, but will it be enough to propel Spurs back in to the Champions League?