Andre Villas-Boas was jumping around on the touchline as Jermain Defoe poked home the equaliser against Newcastle. His joy was short-lived, as three minutes later Spurs succumbed to another defensive error to gift Newcastle the three points.
Losing our first game wasn’t bad, it was just the manner in which it happened and it will have left Andre Villas-Boas with a few points to ponder.
1. Gylfi Sigurdsson or Rafael van der Vaart
Sigurdsson managed to get three strikes at goal and looked to be a threat to sneak in to score. However, he looked to be playing too far up the pitch and there was a distinct gap between him and the double pivot of Jake Livermore and Sandro.
The Icelandic international received the ball 22 times in his first Premier League match for Spurs. In his 68 minutes on pitch, this equates to getting the ball every 3.1 minutes. By way of comparison, whilst at Swansea, the Icelander was receiving the ball every 2.4 minutes on pitch.
Gylfi Sigurdsson is still becoming accustomed to the side and playing style, but if he had been operating at his Swansea level, this would have been an extra seven touches of the ball.
Maybe he was playing too far up the pitch trying to get in behind Jermain Defoe who plays on the shoulder of the last defender?
If we look at where he received the ball, we can see that he gets a lot of passes high up the field in similar areas to where Defoe does.
Andre Villas-Boas swapped Gylfi Sigurdsson for Rafael van der Vaart, indicating that he doesn’t see them playing together at this point. When van der Vaart came on, he immediately got in to the game more and proved to be a better linkman between Sandro and Livermore and the attackers.
He receives the ball in much deeper areas, as he exploits the space between Newcastle’s defence and midfield.
By doing this, the Dutchman gets on the ball much more often than Gylfi Sigurdsson . If we compare the two player’s stats from the game, we can see how Rafael van der Vaart was able to see more of the ball by playing deeper.
|Sigurdsson||van der Vaart|
|Mins on pitch||68||22|
|Mins per pass rec||3.1 mins||1.4 mins|
|Mins per pass played||1.9 mins||1 min|
His penetrating passes had more of an effect on our attack and it was no surprise to see us score after he came on.
Andre Villas-Boas needs to consider how he utilises Gylfi Sigurdsson and to work on his positioning to get the best out of him.
2. Jake Livermore and Sandro
With two more defensively minded players at the base of the midfield, there did seem to be a gap between them and the more attacking players.
I’m not sure whether Andre Villas-Boas wanted to go for a strategy of having six defensively minded players to stop Newcastle winning the midfield battle. Or, whether he expected Jake Livermore to be playing more in advance of Sandro when we had the ball, thus linking the play with Sigurdsson, Lennon and Bale.
Both Sandro and Livermore had good defensive games, as we can see by Stats Zone.
However, neither of them looked to get forward very far in to the opposition half.
Andre Villas-Boas will need to consider whom he plays at the base of the midfield against West Brom this weekend.
Does he go for Sandro and Sigurdsson in order to bring in Rafael van der Vaart?
Sandro and a player like Jermaine Jenas who can offer both attacking and defensive qualities?
Or maybe Sandro and a passer like Tom Huddlestone?
Andre Villas-Boas likes to have his team get the ball wide and to cross. When in charge at Chelsea, his side put in an average of 26 crosses per Premier League match.
This was second during that time to Liverpool, who attempted 29 crosses per game. Spurs last season were ranked fourteenth in the Premier League with 20 balls in to the box per match.
On Saturday against Newcastle, Spurs attempted 25 crosses, so nearly on AVB’s Chelsea average. The problem, as has been well highlighted by our striker shortage, is our lack of height and presence in the box.
Of the 25 crosses that were attempted in the match by Spurs, only 5 found their target (20%). One was for Gareth Bale’s header, which came back off the bar, but if we are going to play this way, Andre Villas-Boas needs a bigger forward.
While we don’t have the have the height, Andre Villas-Boas needs to think about the crossing strategy.
4. Use of the long ball
As with our strategy to cross right now without a bigger target man, Andre Villas-Boas also needs to get the team to consider the number of long balls we are playing and where.
Against Newcastle, long balls played out wide on the diagonal were more effective than ones that were played down the middle.
At times we were using the diagonal ball to quickly switch the side of play and the point of attack, which was good. We also have to realise that anything down the middle, against invariably bigger centre backs, will be gobbled up by the opposition.
5. The Andre Villas-Boas High Press
The pressing play was good by Spurs; the problem was that it wasn’t tremendously effective.
The idea of the high press is to force defenders in to mistakes, or to kick the ball long, increasing our chance to win it back.
The problem was we tried to press, but we didn’t really force anything to happen. Both Newcastle centre backs completed a high percentage of their passes. Steve Taylor made 39 of his 40 passes and James Perch went 46 for 46.
Tim Krul also managed to complete 8 of his 10 passes, so it wasn’t as if our pressure was forcing him to receive passes back and kick long.
We did manage to pressure the full backs slightly, with Danny Simpson only completing 13 of his 19 pass attempts. Whereas Davide Santon at left back faired better, making 30 of his 36 passes. Only three failed passes were made in the Newcastle half of the field by Simpson, but five by Santon.
If we look at our overall defensive display, we can see that we only managed to create turnovers from interceptions and tackles in these wide areas in the Newcastle half.
The players seemed to run out of steam, which is understandable given that this was our first Premier League match of the new season on a very hot day.
The press will be here to stay; we just need to consider the intensity and timing of it.
What would you do if you were Andre Villas-Boas?
Andre Villas-Boas has plenty to consider before our next match with West Brom. If you were in his shoes, how would your side look?