One thing I’ve talked about quite a bit over the course of this season has been Andre Villas-Boas’ use of his substitutes bench to alter or influence matches.
It’s very easy for a manager to ‘throw on another striker’ when he’s chasing a goal, but one of the highlights of this campaign has been us actually having a ‘plan B.’
Andre Villas-Boas has introduced additional midfielders, wingers, even full backs in order to alter the flow of a match. As a result, we’ve turned games around and taken three points when none or one were very much on the cards had we continued with the status quo.
Although very quick to praise the players and his staff, our head coach hasn’t always received the credit his tactical and personnel switches have deserved, until Sunday.
There was simply no avoiding it for Andre Villas-Boas this time; the comeback win over Manchester City was down to his changes, pure and simple. Despite deflecting the attention by giving praise to Defoe and saying ‘it was a great turnaround by the team,’ AVB’s use of his bench won the game from a losing position, again.
So, having talked about and analysed his changes for much of the season, here are my top 5 game-changing substitutions made by Andre Villas-Boas this term.
Spurs 1 Swansea 0
Andros Townsend has been a revelation on loan at QPR. His introduction against Swansea, combined with a shift of personnel, won us a precious three points at the Lane.
Up until the 70th minute, we were creating chances, but most of them were from outside the box against a Swansea side that was content to sit deep.
Andre Villas-Boas had originally lined us up in a loose 4-4-2 formation with Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor up front. Clint Dempsey was also cutting inside from the left wing. Aaron Lennon was the only player providing any kind of natural width to stretch a narrow and compact Swansea side.
In the 70th minute, Andre Villas-Boas made his move. Dempsey and Adebayor came off, Sigurdsson and Townsend on. The shape then changed from 4-4-2 to 4-2-3-1 as Lennon went to the left of the three, Townsend to the right and Sigurdsson in behind Jermain Defoe.
Immediately the switch paid dividends, as we stretched a narrow Swansea side by having width on both sides. Lennon, unlike Dempsey, hugged the touchline, but Andros Townsend made the biggest impact.
The winning goal would come from a free kick, as Jan Vertonghen swept home Kyle Walker’s cross, but the set-play was won by Townsend dribbling at a sitting defence.
He was fouled three times in his twenty minutes on pitch and on each occasion from his direct running with the ball. Wayne Routledge up-ended him to win the free kick for the goal, but Chico Flores also cynically stopped him to deny a one-on-one with goalkeeper Gerhard Tremmel.
Plan A to overload Swansea in the centre with two strikers and a third man joining from the left wasn’t working. Plan B to stretch them with two pacey dribblers who can run in-behind most certainly did.
Gareth Bale at left back?! Andre Villas-Boas got his initial starting eleven very wrong against QPR, as Spurs sputtered through the first half, conceding a goal to Bobby Zamora (of all former players).
At half-time, there was just one change to bring on Steven Caulker for the ineffective Gylfi Sigurdsson, but a major re-shuffle ensued.
Caulker went in to central defence alongside William Gallas. Vertonghen went to left back. Bale to a left forward role and Clint Dempsey in to the centre.
The substitute had a major influence on the equalising goal, which arrived just 14 minutes after his introduction. Caulker rose to head a corner towards the goal, only for Alejandro Faurlin to knock the ball in to his own net. In total, he won five headers in the QPR box causing a major amount of disruption.
Caulker’s assist on the first was soon followed by Jermain Defoe adding a second after Gareth Bale was set free to maraud down the left flank by the change. Spurs went from taking 5 shots in the first half, to 15 after the change.
Has introducing a left back in to a game ever had such a big effect on rescuing a point against a supremely talented Manchester United side?
The Red Devils were ahead courtesy of a Robin van Persie header. It could only really be described as ‘smash and grab,’ seeing as Utd were on the back foot for much of the match.
Fergie’s men were intent on stopping Gareth Bale from playing and deployed Rafael with Phil Jones and Tom Cleverley shuttling across from a central area to stop him.
Kyle Naughton was playing at left back, but with Bale moving inside, his reluctance to get forward and overlap on his un-favoured left foot was hindering the attack.
With the Red Devils keeping us at arms length, Benoit Assou-Ekotto entered the fray. A surprise change, maybe. A shrewd switch, definitely.
Whereas Naughton had been reluctant to get forward, Benni needed no invitation to move in to the space left by Bale moving inside and taking the defenders with him.
In 64 minutes on the pitch, Naughton failed to put in a single cross, in 26 minutes, Assou-Ekotto put in three. This included the one David de Gea flapped in to the path of Aaron Lennon to centre for Clint Dempsey’s dramatic 90th minute equaliser.
The change by Andre Villas-Boas didn’t win all three points, but had a large part to play in us gaining four against the Premier League champions this season.
Width and through passing were at the centre of AVB’s switch that dramatically beat the Hammers.
Lewis Holtby had started on the left, but was constantly moving inside which was playing in to West Ham’s hands. The Hammers were deploying a central midfield triangle and their three players were able to congest the centre of the park, making it difficult to play through them.
West Ham jumped out to a 2-1 lead, but the switch to introduce Gylfi Sigurdsson and then Tom Carroll turned the game around.
Andre Villas-Boas instructed the Icelander to play wide on the left. Tom Carroll replaced Moussa Dembele in teh centre and was pushed higher up, looking to move the ball quickly to both Sigurdsson and Lennon. West Ham’s triangle, which was stifling us, was now being stretched.
Sigurdsson struck the post within minutes of coming on, but added the equaliser a minute after Carroll entered the fray. The two then combined to recycle the ball to Gareth Bale, who sized up Gary O’Neil one-on-one before firing one of the goals of the season.
Gareth Bale’s strike took all the headlines, but the changes made by Andre Villas-Boas had once again put us in a position to win.
Although the match at West Ham had the most dramatic finish, the quickest and most devastating impact came from the changes made against Manchester City.
With the Citizens keeping us in check by crowding the central areas of the pitch, Andre Villas-Boas introduced two passers and an additional player to run in behind.
To start with, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Clint Dempsey were coming inside too quickly. This caused us to be extremely narrow and play right in to the heart of the City defence.
By introducing Tom Huddlestone and Lewis Holtby, he brought in two players who could move the ball quickly by passing it over distance. The switch of Gareth Bale out to the right, then the introduction of Jermain Defoe, installed targets who could run in behind. It was no surprise that both Huddlestone and Holtby assisted on two of the three goals.
The change in personnel and also a shift in formation from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3, allowed us to more effectively attack the Man City full back zones.
This was their greatest area of weakness, as both players are required by City to get forward and supply width to their attack. The swiftness of our ball movement by Huddlestone and Holtby, combined with the quickness of Bale and Defoe, proved to be their undoing.
All three goals were created through the full back zones and it was another masterstroke from Andre Villas-Boas. The Portuguese was once again able to recognise how to change a game in our favour, something he has done many times this season.