Tottenham’s Tactical Transformation

August 1, 2012 in Premier League

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Last night, Andre Villas-Boas played a fashionable “double-pivot� against the New York Red Bulls in New Jersey (New York’s based in Jersey? I don’t get it either). That’s a 4-2-3-1 for the uninitiated.

A signal of his intent tactically? Hardly. The squad is still in the middle of serious landscaping and I’m pretty convinced Gareth Bale played as a lone striker at some points. Not an ideal situation.

So what will Mr Villas-Boas employ? While an option, the formation used last night is likely to be a fall back. But before we speculate about the future, let us look to the past.

Harry Redknapp’s 4-4-1-1 was dismantled from his preferred 4-4-2 to be built around Rafael van der Vaart’s talents. Footballing philosophy was kept to a minimum, as the midfield maestro himself has told us:

“There are no long and boring speeches about tactics … there is a clipboard in our dressing room but Harry doesn’t write anything on it.”

“It’s very relaxed. The gaffer gives us the line-up 20 minutes before we go out to do our warm-up. And the only words he speaks to me are: ‘You play left or right, work hard, have fun and show the fans your best.

“Then the defenders get an instruction about who to mark at corners and free-kicks - and that’s it. It’s not that we do nothing, but it’s close to that.

You could use van der Vaart’s observation as endorsement or condemnation of ‘Arry and his tactical method. Nevertheless, most would be hard pressed to deny this was successful. For the most part.

Enter a disciple of Jose Mourinho: believer in using empirical data to pick apart the opposition long before his chosen XI have even stepped out onto the pitch.

Needless to say, that clipboard may be seeing a bit more use.

Andre Villas-Boas employs an attacking 4-3-3 with a high line and an emphasis on width everywhere he has gone, with varying success. At Porto, it got him a season unbeaten, and at Chelsea, it got him sacked after 6 months.

Chances are, it’ll be the go-to formation for the Best Team in North London™, and Tottenham’s squad is tailored to this style much better than Chelsea’s, despite them using the same system for much longer.

Starting from the back, the high line will be much better played by defenders who can run faster than, say, John Terry. Jan Vertonghen, Younes Kaboul and (to a lesser extent) Michael Dawson provide much better mobility. Attacking full-backs who can track back are a must: Kyle Walker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto with plenty of available cover suggest this shouldn’t be a problem.

In midfield, AVB prefers a very deep anchorman (enter Scott Parker), allied with an industrious playmaker and an intelligent runner linking up with the front three. Sigurdsson would theoretically fill one of the more forward-thinking roles, and Bale and Lennon are merely waiting for a centre-forward to join them.

Although a lover of the previous approach, van der Vaart will either have to adapt or be left behind; he won’t be allowed the defensive work-rate (or lack of it) he had under ‘Arry, and has gone on record saying he dislikes playing out wide. But as one man falls, another man rises.

Admittedly I know little about Giovani Dos Santos beyond his constant world-class benchwarming impression of Samir Nasri for the club and his occasional world-class performance as a regular for Mexico. That said, AVB likes his left-footed right wingers, and the fact that he doesn’t have to convert a striker to do so (Hulk and Sturridge, I’m looking at you) gives Dos Santos a better chance than he’s had previously, especially considering he claimed ‘Arry wouldn’t even talk to him.

But of course, this is all speculation. For all I know, we’ll start next season with our record signing playing as a “False 9�.

Seeing as our record signing is David Bentley, I hope this isn’t the case.