Football

So far, so good – Andre Villas-Boas silences the doubters but tough assignments await Tottenham Hotspur

Ten games into his tenure as Tottenham Hotspur Head Coach, Andre Villas-Boas has enjoyed a fruitful start to the season. The fans who were unsure of his appointment, replacing the popular figure of Harry Redknapp during the summer, are reluctantly accepting the young Portuguese.

His record reads as follows, five wins, fours draws and a solitary defeat. That defeat was sustained on the opening day of the season at St James Park (Sports Direct Arena) despite a very good Spurs performance. Two draws followed and AVB endured the fans’ wrath for dropping points in consecutive matches at White Hart Lane to West Brom and Norwich respectively. The daggers were out and the journalists were licking their lips as Spurs threw away two successive leads against ‘lesser’ opposition.

Given their performances, their first win of the season was only around the corner and it arrived away to Reading largely thanks to a devastating display of counter-attacking football. The disgruntled few, were silenced by what they witnessed and begrudgingly nodded in approval. Days later, AVB again, came under attack for naming a full-strength team to play Lazio in the Europa League. The new players, in particular Moussa Dembele, deflected the criticism aimed at his new gaffer by publicly relishing the chance to take on the likes of the Italian giants, leaving the tabloid’s scribes with precious little speculation to fill the back pages. The match finished 0-0 with Spurs largely dominating possession and had three goals ruled out – two of which looked legitimate.

Next up, a London derby against QPR. Fresh from their draw in the West London derby against the European Champions, the visitors took the game to a lacklustre Spurs in what was possibly their worst opening 45 minute performance since the days of Juande Ramos.

Due to Kyle Naughton’s injury, Spurs opted to start Gareth Bale in his original left-back position. It did not work well. The Welshman was, defensively, at sixes and sevens. In turn, Clint Dempsey ineffectively tried to fill Bale’s boots on the left-wing. It was a mess. Somewhat luckily, Spurs were only 1-0 down at half-time. AVB made the changes which kick-started Spurs into life. Gylfi Siggurdson made way for Steven Caulker. A centre back on for an attacking midfielder when 1-0 down? The move simply shifted Dempsey to a central position to play in behind Jermain Defoe, allowing Bale to step up into his preferred left-wing position. Jan Vertonghen moved to left-back and of all the changes, the Belgian, was able to dictate more of the play by venturing further forward and linked excellently with Bale. In particular, the pair combined magnificently for Defoe’s winner, only two minutes after Esteban Grenaro had scored an own goal to level the game. After that point Spurs attacked at will with the lightning Aaron Lennon particularly impressing through his wing wizardry.

Following the first home win of the campaign, numerous changes were made in the League Cup tie away to Carlisle. The Lillywhites returned to London safely in the next round after a comfortable 3-0 victory. Then came the big one. Manchester United away.

Spurs had not beaten United since 1989 and, interestingly, was the first English ground which AVB tasted defeat at last season – almost exactly one year earlier. Lightning did not strike twice and it was a historic day for Spurs as they swept past United in a storming first half leaving them 2-0 to the good. Surely enough, back roared United in the second half but Spurs held firm for a lengthy 35 minutes to win 3-2 after a three-goal exchange in as many minutes, early in the second half. The manner of that win certainly helped AVB and it clearly meant a lot given the passionate celebrations on the touchline when greeting the full-time whistle.

No time to bask in historic triumph as a full-strength Spurs side played flew to Greece during the following week drawing 1-1 with Panathinaikos before they kept their first Premiership clean sheet of the season in a comfortable 2-0 victory over Aston Villa on the weekend.

Undefeated in nine games, confidence is high at Spurs. Coincidentally, the recent wins have come at a time when Spurs moved to a new state-of-the-art training ground. Bale likened it to “playing at a new club” whilst Emmanuel Adebayor said the facilities bettered anything he has seen at previous clubs including his time at Real Madrid.

However, before anyone gets carried away, it is worth noting that AVB’s first ten games at Chelsea were similar to this season’s results at Spurs – the Blues won 16 points from their first seven league games (compared to 14 for Spurs). In Spurs’ seven league fixtures, eight goals have been conceded with only one clean sheet which is an exact replica of AVB’s Chelsea. Furthermore, the only ‘top-four’ team which Chelsea faced in those opening games was United at Old Trafford. The similarities end there as Chelsea lost and Spurs won. Significantly, after Chelsea’s initial good start last season, their next 10 games consisted of six league fixtures where they had a win / loss ratio of 50:50. Defeats against QPR, Arsenal and Liverpool resulted in dressing-room mutiny and from there on AVB was a dead-man walking.

He will hope that the victory at Old Trafford ensures that his Spurs footsteps go in a different direction to those whilst with the Blues. There will be a great deal of interest to see how the North Londoners fare after the international break as they will play 11 games in under six weeks taking them to the end of November. In the league they face AVB’s ex-employers, and current league leaders, Chelsea at White Hart Lane plus Manchester City and Arsenal – both away.

Given the speed of the Spurs revolving door in the summer, player power should not be as influential as it was at Chelsea since signings such as Dempsey, Dembele and Vertonghen appear to have replaced Ledley King, Luka Modric and Rafael Van Der Vaart seemingly with ease. With Michael Dawson and Tom Huddlestone falling down the pecking order, AVB is already well on his way to creating his own Spurs.

Youngsters such as Steven Caulker and Andros Townsend have sung AVB’s praises in the development of the club’s academy players by integrating them into the first team – something which his predecessor was criticised for. “You want to know that if you are playing well and you are training well you will be in the team,” Caulker said. “I think AVB has brought that into the team and I am happy. It’s not nice when there are favourites.”

Furthermore AVB has, so far, admirably defused a sticky situation between Hugo Lloris and Brad Friedel. Lloris only made his Premiership debut on Sunday, over a month after signing for the club. The French national team captain was a great signing but given Friedel’s form it was virtually impossible to drop the American. AVB stated that Lloris started against Villa on the weekend after playing the full 90 minutes against the Greeks during the week. With the international break coming up, it made sense that the Frenchman should get a run of games considering he is France’s number one and due to play two World Cup qualifying ties this coming weekend. With 18 matches coming thick and fast after the international break until the end of 2012, there will be ample opportunity to keep everyone happy.

It is still early doors, but if Spurs get through to the beginning of December relatively unscathed, a certain young Portuguese may just hear his name resonate around White Hart Lane.

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