Thanks for the memories: Tottenham’s top 5 tactical performances under Andre Villas-Boas

The tenure of Andre Villas-Boas at Tottenham came to an abrupt end on Monday. Was he pushed? Did he quit? Does it really matter in this era of short-termism and what have you done for me lately?

After Arsene Wenger (17 years) and Alan Pardew (3 years), the longest serving Premier League manager is Sam Allardyce with just 2 full terms in charge. It kind of tells you where we are in the Premier League era. Vast sums of money may be afforded to the modern day manager, but in the win or go home culture, time is most definitely not.

Whether Andre Villas-Boas should’ve departed or not is debateable. The Portuguese did mastermind some excellent performances in the season and a bit that he managed us.

So, I’ve taken a look at our top 5 performances under Andre Villas-Boas. Of course, being Spurs Fanatic, they are from a tactical viewpoint. If you want to read the full match breakdown, just click on the score line headers.

5). Chelsea 2 Spurs 2

A draw might not be the first result that comes to mind, but our trip to Stamford Bridge had a bit of everything with Champions League qualification at stake. Heart, effort, resilience and a never say die attitude to come back twice, as well as a meticulous tactical plan.

Chelsea started off the match with great energy, pressing us high up the pitch, which resulted in turnovers and Hugo Lloris often having to clear long downfield. After we lost the ball, we frequently fouled the tricky trio of Oscar, Mata and Hazard midway inside our half. This saw the Blues open the scoring, as one of these free-kicks was cleared for a corner and Oscar was left free to nod home.

Emmanuel Adebayor, who had been largely anonymous, suddenly burst out to have one of the games of the season.

The Togolese striker went the length of the pitch to equalise with an audacious curling effort on the counter attack. He then set up Kyle Walker with a neat back-heel flick round the corner, then repeating the trick later in the game on Gylfi Sigurdsson’s equaliser.

Adebayor got through an immense amount of work, especially down the left, Chelsea’s weak spot.


Chelsea 2 Spurs 2: Emmanuel Adebayor passes received.

We’d looked at the space down the left behind full back Cesar Azpilicueta in the Tottenham tactics for Chelsea vs Spurs prior to the match. The Spaniard likes to get forward, but this can be used against him. Andre Villas-Boas use of his substitutes bench, combined with working this area behind the full back proved pivotal after the interval.

With Spurs trailing 2-1, Andre Villas-Boas sent on Gylfi Sigurdsson to play down the left and the Icelander combined with Adebayor and Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Azpilicueta was caught up field trying to jam Benni, allowing Sigurdsson and Adebayor to slip in behind.


Spurs equalise through Chelsea’s weaker right back zone.

The Togolese striker’s vision and creativity to flick the ball back was superb; the Icelander’s finish was calm and collected.

Spurs could have gone on to win the game, having several chances to win it, including Gareth Bale’s free-kick at the death.

The performance was outstanding against an extremely tough Chelsea side, on a ground where we haven’t tasted victory in an extremely long time.

4). Spurs 3 Man City 1

This performance was about the most exciting six minutes at the Lane all season, but all hinged on a switch of formation and tactics.

Man City were very much in control of the game at the interval. Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure were doing an excellent job of congesting space around Gareth Bale, limiting his involvement and effectiveness.

Whilst our number ten was being kept out of the game, Carlos Tevez in the same role for City was having a field day.

He created their opening goal with a beautifully crafted pass from an impossible angle. Milner received the pass and squared the ball for Nasri and the visitors were in front. Not just content with being heavily involved in their first goal, Tevez also created chances another golden opportunity for Nasri, whilst also slipping in Edin Dzeko.


Carlos Tevez created City’s openings.

With Man City keeping us at arms length, Andre Villas-Boas first moved Gareth Bale out of the middle to the right. He then introduced Tom Huddlestone and Lewis Holtby to move the ball forward much quicker and shifted to a 4-3-3 formation.

In the Tottenham tactics for Spurs vs Man City, we looked at the space their full backs leave, as they provide the Citizens’ width going forward. With City looking to add a game-sealing second, we were able to expose this space in six pulsating minutes.

With Gael Clichy caught out of position, Gareth Bale sent a beautiful pass across the goal to Clint Dempsey at the back post to level the scores.


Gareth Bale gets in behind Gael Clichy.

Then, Pablo Zabaleta was caught up field by a turnover in the midfield zone and Lewis Holtby released Jermain Defoe to gallop in to space. Vincent Kompany let him drift back inside on his right and the resulting arrow in to the corner was a throwback to the Defoe of earlier in the season.


Pablo Zabaletta is caught up field as Holtby releases Defoe.

Next it was back to Clichy’s side, as Gareth Bale streaked in to the space behind the full back. Tom Huddlestone dissected Matija Nastasic and the former Gunner with a pinpoint pass. 3-1. City’s full backs had been abused by our switch in tactics once again and the match was over.


Tom Huddlestone finds Gareth Bale behind Clichy again.

3). Spurs 2 Arsenal 1

This was a game of Russian roulette as both teams pressed up and tried to expose each other’s high lines. The game was won through the inside left channel with two almost identical goals from Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon.

Arsenal had the lion’s share of possession, but we were much more clinical. The Gunners were able to do this through often having 3v2 in the midfield zone. Gareth Bale was playing too high up and this left Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey to dictate play and hold the ball.

The problem for the Gooners though, was that when play broke down, Bale was in advanced positions going the other way and they didn’t have enough pressure on the ball.

The first goal arrived in this fashion, as the ball was turned over and Gylfi Sigurdsson drove forward uncontested. Gareth Bale made a diagonal run through the inside left channel and the Icelander put him in to slot past Wojciech Szczesny.


Arsenal get caught out by Bale through the inside left channel.

Moments later, Santi Cazorla turned the ball over in the midfield zone. Scott Parker received it in the inside left channel once more and fed in a diagonally cutting Aaron Lennon this time to make it 2-0.


Parker plays in Lennon through the inside left channel this time.

The second half saw Arsenal mount some serious pressure, but Michael Dawson was immense at the back with Jan Vertonghen.

Behind them, Hugo Lloris was putting on a goalkeeping clinic. He was often racing from his line to clear, collect a cross or smother a through ball.

Arsenal did score, but this was a tremendous performance to hit a high line with runners cutting through the defence.

2). West Ham 2 Spurs 3

A game settled by a last minute Gareth Bale thunderbolt from outside the box, but Spurs came from behind to edge the Hammers by beating their central triangle.

Sam Allardyce went with Mohammed Diame, Kevin Nola and Gary O’Neil in a midfield trio set up to make it congested for Gareth Bale. It was a good idea, but he didn’t bargain on Andre Villas-Boas using Lewis Holtby as an additional player to spoil this.

The effect was seen on the first goal, where Holtby had moved inside from his starting position on the left, allowing Bale to slip in behind the triangle.


Gareth Bale sneaks in-behiind the Hammers’ defensive triangle.

Once the Welshman had the ball via a deflection, he calmly worked his way across the park and arrowed a low shot in to the corner of the net.

West Ham would come back though, by their use of long balls and crossing. A penalty was won after a long ball downfield to Andy Carroll. Then the Hammers took the lead from a long diagonal cross, as Joey O’Brien picked out Joe Cole.

Andre Villas-Boas responded through the use of his bench once again. After Holtby had been moving inside to create confusion in the central area, he was switched for Gylfi Sigurdsson who stayed wide. The Icelander was immediately in the action, having a shot pushed on to the post, then equalising after a scramble following a free-kick.


West Ham 2 Spurs 3: Gylfi Sigurdsson passes received.

AVB then removed a dribbler in Moussa Dembele and introduced a passer in Tom Carroll. This allowed us to take over possession in the game and start to wear a tiring Hammers side down.

After Gary O’Neil was caught ball-watching and let Gareth Bale in for the opener, the same player was beaten twice on the winner.

O’Neil was caught up field trying to shadow Bale and the Welshman was able to let the ball cross his body and then drive forward past him in to acres of space. Firstly, Winston Reid came to challenge him, then Joey O’Brien dumped him on the floor, but Gylfi Sigurdsson picked up the ball from his role on the left. The Icelander then recycled play to Tom Carroll who was operating much further up the pitch than Moussa Dembele.

Carroll’s short, neat pass allowed Bale to now match up one-on-one with an exhausted O’Neil who had chased him back moments earlier. Whereas before he may have been tight to Bale, a fatigued O’Neil left too much space and the rest was pure class.


Gary O’Neil sags off too deep, allowing Gareth Bale to drive at him.

It was one of the games of the season with an outstanding performance from Bale. AVB’s switches to get behind, then stretch the midfield triangle set up by Allardyce were also highly impressive.

1). Man Utd 2 Spurs 3

This performance from Spurs had everything. Clear tactics that involved a blazing start with clinical swift attacking play to knock Manchester United on to the back foot. Then dogged defence to hold on to the lead.

Spurs were like lightning out of the traps. The plan was to hit surging runners from deep positions in a display of swift counter-attacking play. Sandro and Moussa Dembele were screening our defence and breaking up attacks, then shifting the ball quickly to move it forward.

Jan Vertonghen opened the scoring after laying the ball off to Gareth Bale, then darting forward through the inside left channel. Bale returned it to the Belgian who had left Nani in his wake. Jermain Defoe then took Rio Ferdinand away from the play, allowing Vertonghen to drive in to the area and finish.


Gareth Bale finds a cutting Jan Vertonghen.

One quickly became two, as Bale turned recipient this time after Sandro had won the ball back and laid it quickly to Moussa Dembele. The Belgian then hit Gareth Bale in stride as he went on to roast an exposed Rio Ferdinand.


Gareth Bale runs from deep to make it 2-0.

Two up at the interval brought a response from Sir Alex Ferguson, as he brought on Wayne Rooney. Andre Villas-Boas’ answer was to drop off and play dogged defence, then hit on the counter.

Rooney was influential in grabbing a goal back, but we responded once again, driving forward from deep on the counter.

Jermain Defoe, who had an excellent game, received the ball out on the touchline and then passed it inside to Bale. The Welshman’s shot was parried and Clint Dempsey, who had tore forward, was there to gobble up the rebound.

Man Utd pulled another one back through Kagawa, but this half was all about Spurs’ solid defending. Man Utd may have had 76% possession, but the rearguard action displayed by the team was one of the most impressive we’ve seen in years.


Spurs defended deep.

It was not just our first triumph at Old Trafford in 23 years, but also a victory for tactics and organisation.

It was without a doubt our top tactical performance under Andre Villas-Boas.

Thanks for the memories Andre!

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7 Responses to Thanks for the memories: Tottenham’s top 5 tactical performances under Andre Villas-Boas

  1. Paulo 18th December 2013 at 10:34 pm #

    Nice! I’m pretty irritated about the whole thing. My feeling is that we’re not being told the whole story and I personally don’t mind grinding out a few results while the team is in transition… Anyone saying AVB set up was boring should recall some of those matches above. I’d also throw into the mix the 1-1 at home to Man U where we battered them for the second half before a last minute equaliser and the 0-4 away to Villa where we basically smashed them for 90minutes. Those were the days….! Who would you go for next ?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 19th December 2013 at 10:45 am #

      Some interesting games you mention Paulo. I was also considering the 1-1 at home to Man Utd and also the 3-0 at home to Inter but felt they weren’t quite as tactical.

      I think the next manager really needs to be a really considered choice. I didn’t really see what was wise about letting AVB go midseason when there are few alternative candidates – unless Levy has already struck up something. At least give AVB the whole year to see if he could get the players to gel and then make a decision – smaller pay off too which would appeal to Levy’s wallet.

      Midseason i think you need someone with great experience who can command instant respect and lead the players short term – Hiddink would have been good, but now he’s out of the running, Capello also fits that mould – although it would mean a return to very defensive football which won’t suit the masses.

      Frank De Boer is a promising coach i like (plus he is schooled in 4-3-3 which is the type of players we have so his systems would work – another manager may be good, but our players may not fit or be able to run his system). But he may also tick the ‘taking a bit of a gamble’ box that we went with when hiring AVB and the next appointement really needs to be a solid one.

      That’s why i would have given it until the summer to get a clearer picture of who would be available, as right now there is not one standout candidate.

      • Boon 19th December 2013 at 2:12 pm #

        Yes I agree there are few available standout candidates. I’m hoping the players group up together, go to the board and request the reinstate AVB because they like him and were united behind him. Things weren’t good, but if they are committed and if AVB can be a little more flexible and pragmatic – they can turn things around. But alas, that’s wishful thinking.

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 19th December 2013 at 3:43 pm #

          Very wishful thinking methinks :) i’m hearing differing stories of whether he was forced out or decided to quit. Either way, i think Levy is meddling too much and should let his manager do his job and manage.

          • Boon 19th December 2013 at 5:04 pm #

            AVB said he is not a quitter right after the Liverpool lost and will never resign. But if reports are true that he believes the board does not have faith in him and does not back him, then I can see why he would have quit because there’s no point continuing if is handed players he didn’t exactly wanted or asked to reintegrate Adebayor is clearly not in AVB’s good books, or not given time to make things work.

  2. Chris 19th December 2013 at 9:47 am #

    Ahh good stuff – though some of those results were jammy! That Arsenal 2-1 could have ended up at any score!

    I’m kind of in disbelief that we’d get rid of a manager just before Christmas – I was ok with the time it was taking the team to gel, and we were even grinding out some good results. Watching Defoe for 90 minutes last night really made me feel for AVB (and confirmed my doubts about the brain of an average Spurs fan).

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 19th December 2013 at 10:50 am #

      Thanks Chris, yes it was more about the in-game tactics than the scores, but yes it could have ended up at anything.

      Also in disbelief this would come at such an important time in the season and with so few viable candidates – as i replied to Paulo above.