Villas-Boas Outsmarted By His Pal Roberto

Before kick-off Villas-Boas and Martinez embraced and chatted warmly. For a moment I wondered if they might turn away and find a quiet corner for tapas and a glass of white, leaving the vulgar hurly-burly of a tense top and bottom game behind them.

They have much in common. Serious, earnest students of the game, they must overcome not only their comparative youth but also the suspicion of the cerebral approach that is inbred into English football. It may be a meeting of minds yet on the evidence of Spurs’ two matches against Wigan this season, it is not a meeting of equals.

Twice Martinez has tactically out-thought and outmanoeuvred the Spurs manager resulting in just one point from six, not good enough as we push for the top four. At the Lane, his 3-4-3 stifled our midfield and constantly pressured the defence. We could not get going. Yesterday, they fell back after going a goal up. With a high line at the back and conceding space around the halfway line, they compressed the play into a twenty yard strip. Spurs barely had room to breathe let alone pass the ball or, perish the thought, mount some attacks.

We fell into the trap. Spurs had changed things around too. Huddlestone’s strong appearances as a substitute were rewarded with a start. He played well in the first half, finding his range straight away and willing runners into the channels. With more composed finishing and touch on the ball we could, should, have at least got more shots on target.

However, once Wigan went into the lead, there was no space for the ball to drop. As soon as he picked out a man, the ball was either intercepted in the air because our opponents had time to see it coming or the man on the ball was swiftly swallowed up by willing tacklers. Also, we did nothing to knock it around patiently to draw out the Wigan massed ranks. So the passes became aimless side to side rather than into the heart of the defence and our opponents could contentedly stay in formation. Hud’s long passing game became a liability.

Belated width from Bale and Lennon changed nothing. We did not give the ball to either of them. Their starting position was too far up the field, swallowed up like the rest of us.  We never escaped from that stranglehold. We have the skills but not the wit or intelligence.

None of which should have mattered. On top in the first half, Hud’s raking passes looked as if a breakthrough was sure to come. Defoe was bright save for wanting the extra touch. Bale went through the full repertoire – headers, passes, lay-offs, cushioned headers in the box – excepting a flat-out afterburners run. Something is not quite right. Parker should have shot when after a fine move Defoe’s touch rebounded to him off the keeper. Quite what he was thinking of in taking a touch only he will know.

Yet it was comedy not class that brought the goal. Ten thousand times we’ve seen forwards descend on the keeper only for the clearance to sail upfield. This one hit Bale and pinged into the goal. I have seen it once before, Mark Schwartzer at the Lane, Kanoute’s backside?

Most teams would have ruthlessly exploited such good fortune, but this is Spurs. Wigan equalised from a corner within two minutes, Vertonghen beaten from a standing jump for the second time in three games. Corners and set-pieces have become a liability again. Without making a detailed analysis, my impression is how empty our box seems. The tiresome argy-bargy that comes with most set-pieces is about blocking runs, shutting down space and ensuring that no opponent has the luxury of a clean jump. We don’t have men on the posts so where are they? We need to get low down and dirty like the rest of them.

I don’t recall Lloris making a save in the first half or even touching the ball although he must have. Yet soon in the second half we were 2-1 down, a fine shot from the edge of the box. We needed a lift to get back yet there was nothing.

Pass and move is our style yet everyone was befuddled. It would have drawn Wigan out and got our dangermen on the ball. Parker was committed but failed to exert his influence, too far forward again. I know he is capable of more.

Then we have the substitutions. Last week they won the match in a frenzied spectacular of goals. Yesterday they merely added to the gloom. Not for the first time we saw a full-back for a full-back, which is such a waste especially as on the left there isn’t a radical difference between Naughton and Benny although the Frenchman is undoubtedly the better player and should start. I have advocated for a while now that we should play the same defence for the run-in rather than chop and change all the time. Villas-Boas judges Naughton to be better defensively but we know BAE needs a run of games to bed in.

As it was, we could have done with another midfielder, Siggy to get into the box or Carroll to stimulate the passing game, releasing Dempsey to get alongside Defoe. The few crosses we managed put no pressure on the Wigan defence.

Wigan were extremely good at what they did, pressing like maniacs and allowing us no time on the ball. They also kept their shape like Roman centurions. That said, it would have been harder with ten men. Gomez, who had already been booked, went in head-high on Holtby. Much as I despise players who make a fuss, if Lewis had gone down the referee would surely have reacted.

We needed more luck to equalise, a late free-kick diverted into his own net by Boyce. We are still in it, the pressure until the end of the season won’t diminish regardless of today’s results. However, we are not sparking as we should. Lennon, Bale and Dembele (who went off holding his leg yet again without making a significant contribution) are not fit and we really need that spark because we can’t keep a clean sheet. Four left, flat out now. Much focus on the attack this season but our destiny is in the hands of our defensive discipline. Must get sorted at the back.

I’ve been using workflowy to plan this article – sign up and I get more space. How can you resist?

25 thoughts on “Villas-Boas Outsmarted By His Pal Roberto

  1. Good column as always. I’m not clear either why Naughton is favoured over BAE. He might be a promising player but BAE needs to play regularly to be on top form and BAE’s a better player. Typical Spurs though; win a match we ought to have won then play poorly in a match we ought to have won.


      • Me too – forgot to check the comments until now.

        I’m not clear either. Naughton is not a bad player but I can’t see why Andre appears to think he fits a particular tactic better than Benny. Think it is a case of where the manager just doesn’t rate a certain player highly enough.

        Regards, Alan


  2. The game tactics by AVB were very poor. Tom Carroll should have come on for Dembele. Holtby is more of a ball winning midfielder and is more similar to Parker than Dembele. Holtby is a better passer of the ball than Parker. So Holtby could have come on for Parker later in the game. Swapping the left backs around is not the best solution to getting a couple of goals.


  3. The total lack of urgency was appalling. I don’t want to see any more interviews from Dempsey about poor atmosphere, or other players about how every game is a cup final; it’s all bollocks, just do the talking on the pitch. 5000 Spurs went up there yesterday to watch what looked at times to be nothing more than a training exercise. We looked weak, lethargic and completely void of ideas. I just hope AVB isn’t as forgiving in private as he is to the media. Too many players need a rocket up their arse and quick.

    I’m not a fan of Huddlestone, you need to do more than just strike a sweet pass or two in today’s game, but used sparingly, he can be an effective player. He isn’t the answer though, and to read that he’ll look elsewhere if he doesn’t get game time makes me want to smack him round the head. Too many of these players are more interested in themselves than the team. If ‘low-ball’ Levy does eventually deem his manger worthy of backing, then AVB needs to find players with a team ethic and winning mentality rather than the ‘hey, this is just a job, but I’m cool, lol’ mentality of some. Sadly, the few players who do have it at Spurs are too old or just not very good, in Parker’s case, both. Not happy.


    • YES to your point of view Players should do the talking on the pitch not on web sites. I have stated on previous occasions that the players that came in this season are not up to the quality to take this club to the next step. I am aware that Mr Levy has his supporters, but i feel that his player buying (or not) has been poor and the buck stops at the top.


    • There’s no excuse for the performance yesterday. Spurs played like they didn’t have much to play for. No motivation, disorganised, poor passing, lazy tackling and lack of firepower. AVB has a lot to answer for and so has Levy. This team goes out one week and are ‘up for it’ and at other times they look as though they haven’t played together before and the couldn’t care less about the outcome.


    • Without excusing the palyers, I thought this one was done to AVB’s tactics not giving the players the tools to outwit Wigan and also, importantly, the lack of onfield leadership and drive. I don’t want to single out Parker more than I did in the piece but that’s what he offerred last season. Not this, and it shows on days like yesterday.

      regards, Al


  4. Starting to look like Bale will be off and we ‘start all over’ next season. This is so, so frustrating as, had Levy acted in January, we would have secured a EC place. Anger doesn’t describe my feelings today. More absolute hatred of Daniel Levy and his f—ing stinginess.


  5. We all go on about Levy and how tight he is and how we needed a quality striker but, for me we threw the game away due to AVBs tactics. Last week he was spot on, this game he changes the winning team against CIty.
    Why? Their is enough about us to be able to beat Wigan. That Martinez never seizes to amaze me and will be a brilliant manager if he had the resources we have.
    Hopefully next game we can be singing praises for AVB.


    • Thanks for your comment about Martinez, we have played some great stuff this season and not always got our just rewards for playing a neat passing game, Bobby refuses to change his style and I agree and would sooner see us get relegated playing football than stay up stuffing it up the jumper!! Chairman Dave for all his deluded comments has always said Bobby will manage a top club and on that point he is for once spot on! Huddelestone your best player yesterday and think you will still get CL – Good Luck to the Spurs


      • Thank you. Focus on that Arsenal game, eh?! Obviously this blog focusses on Spurs but I should add how motivated and willing Wigan were to do their manager’s bidding and they employed the counter-attack very well. All the best for the rest of the season, Alan


  6. The midfield has stuttered all season. Bale, in recent months, has covered up that issue and kept us in contention. We have lots of ‘midfielders’, but no real pattern or firm control at vital times, and Carroll is the only playmaker (a developing one at that). Parker played very effectively with Modric, but he struggles playing with Dembele and others. I like Holtby, Sandro and Parker, and they are all assets, but they’re defensive players. Dembele pushes forward dangerously, and is industrious, but he doesn’t have the patience or skill to play ‘creatively’ throughout a match, and besides, he’s told to move forward from deep anyway. What happened to that dangerous player who tucked in behind the forwards at the start of the season? Hudd is showing some form at last, but he’s not part of the ‘push and move’ plan he finds it generally hard to ‘move’. But then who IS part of this push and move plan? And what happened to us pressing higher up the pitch in order to counter the lack of creativity (let alone build on it)? Our tippy tappy passing in many games has covered up our lack of imagination in central midfield. What’s the point of possession if you’re not doing anything with it, and the opponents simply wait until you’ve made a mistake? ..which inevitably happens. It’s criminal that we are just ONE good creative midfielder (and one decent link-up striker) away from bringing out the best in most of our other players. Levy has let them down by not replacing Modric as the heartbeat of our team, or bringing in a top draw striker. Bale and Lennon being served on the wings by a creative midfield will allow Dembele more freedom, give Hudd more passing options for his long ball game (if needed), and keep Sandro, Parker and Holtby in healthy competition with each other. And don’t forget that forward, the one who can FINALLY start scoring from all the chances that we can undoubtedly create with a system like push and move, and speed on the wings!!


    • It’s been a good season but the faults of the team are shwoing up now, and as you rightly say, in the second half of the season the apssing and pressing has not been what it should be, these problems were hidden for a time.




  7. I know we are all gutted, but here lets just take a second. Bale has covered a lot of our deficiencies this season. Reality is Levi has again wanted to get champs league on the cheap. If we had invested in one good quality striker I am sure we would be at least 6 points better of than we are now, We sold class but never really replaced it. The squad lacks balance. We even let Townsend go on loan when we have only one winger!????? Levi trying to reduce the wage bill! AVB has done well overall. but he totally misjudged wigan. Benny and Lennon should have started and although not a great fan of Carrol yet, he was the natural person to replace dembele. The sad fact is we do lack the guile to open up packed defences. Yes we also have been unlucky with injuries to class acts such as Kaboul and for me the spirit of the team Sandro, as well as Bale and Lennon and Defoe. We may end up losing Bale and he really is world class. I hope you are happy Mr Levi because this one really is on you. Bloody season ticket need renewal too!


    • AVB has done well as you say. I wrote earlier this season about how levy did not back his manager in the summer, preferring to wait until he had proved himself. Big mistake. Regards, Alan


  8. Good but not good enough…again? Last season with 4 games to go, we were in 5th place then won 3 & drew 1 to finish 4th. We’re in exactly the same position, 5th with 4 to play this season. If-if-if-if, we win all 4, we’re in, no matter what Arsenal does. BTW, Ade scored 4 goals in those last 4 games — what are the chances of that happening again? COYS! Again!


    • At last – the voice of optimism to end the comments. But the final line shall remain a rhetorical question because I know what my answer would be…

      keep topping up the tan, I’m off round the M25… regards, Al


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