Villas Boas should stick to his guns rather than adapt (Part 1)

Discussion in 'Columns' started by InOffMeLeftShin, Sep 3, 2012.

  • by InOffMeLeftShin, Sep 3, 2012 at 7:53 AM
  • InOffMeLeftShin

    InOffMeLeftShin Night watchman Admin

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    The predictable murmurings of dissatisfaction amongst Spurs fans have already begun and the negative press surrounding AVB’s position as Tottenham boss are already being ramped up from what was already an active witch hunt. It is no secret that ever since AVB’s appointment many have been very quick to pass judgment on his suitability for the position following his unsuccessful tenure at Chelsea. However the most recent accusations that are appearing in the press following Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Norwich don’t ring true. Statements such as ‘AVB says that he has learnt from his mistakes and yet continues to try to shoehorn players into his system even if it doesn’t work in English football’ and ‘AVB refuses to be flexible with his formation, why has he changed something that worked as soon as he has come into the club?’ aren’t a reflection on what has happened with Tottenham during the first few games yet they are being used repeatedly to target AVB. How long will it be until the press are hounding AVB out of the hot seat based on claims which are entirely false.

    For me the issue we have had so far is that AVB has actually tried to adapt his system; a system which he has a strong belief in. Maybe this is due to the negative press that followed him since his departure from Chelsea. Rather than playing his version of a 4-3-3, he has instead set Tottenham up in a 4-2-3-1 (which is distinctly different, despite what many following football believe). During pre-season it was suggested that this was down to the players familiarity with the system, having played it a few times under Redknapp and that he didn’t want to bring in the 4-3-3 too quickly. The result has been that we have seen football based on ‘recycling the possession’ but without the fluidity of movement and cutting edge that is naturally developed by AVB’s fluid 4-3-3 system. Despite that our problems have not been the same as the ones seen at Chelsea, we haven’t suffered from the high line, we haven’t shoehorned players into positions they can’t play etc.

    At the moment we are in transition, yet we are only committing to it in a half measure and as such the performances are less than convincing and I think Villas Boas would be the first to admit that. Let me try to explain how I see this system working and why we need to adopt it as soon as possible so that we can see the real results of AVB’s philosophy and why it’ll work for us and didn’t at Chelsea.
    The fact that roles couldn’t be found for Lampard or Drogba was a serious issue, Terry was compromising his defence by not being able to play a high line and I'm not sure that making Sturridge pretty much the key component in his attacking strategy will have gone down too well with the senior players.
    This is not an issue for Tottenham, who have players that should fit in well with the preferred 4-3-3 formation of Villas Boas and the brand of football that he wants to play. The key to the 4-3-3 formation that was so successful at Porto was that it created mismatches or developed spaces for the players to play into. This is essentially the goal of any team sport where you are trying to score against the opposition, manipulate the opposition structure to get a player mismatch, or disrupt their structure to create opportunities to score. In sports that are heavily coached from the sidelines such as Basketball or Volleyball every play is individually developed to create such mismatches in size of player, or even more importantly to get the ball to the most talented player and create space for them to do damage.

    Essentially this is the theory with ‘refreshing possession’ i.e. repeatedly moving the ball from one side to the other to move the defence and create spaces. Against Norwich this didn’t work for a few reasons, 1. The tempo of the passing was too slow to effectively move the opposition players and they were able to maintain their organized structure, 2. A lack of movement in front of the passing (something which wouldn’t happen using AVB’s version of 4-3-3 as the nature of the system dictates that there are particular movements to affect the opposition defence) and 3. If the system stays rigid and the tempo is slow it may still be possible create mismatches if there is a player with great vision and ability such as Modric or VDV however we no longer have those players who can affect the pace of a game very rapidly or pick out a pass that can catch opposing players off guard. That doesn’t mean that we are doomed to failure, far from it, we still have solutions which can see us dominate opposition and manipulate them repeatedly in order that the team dynamically creates these opportunities rather than relying on the brilliance of the individual. That system is in the hands of AVB and is one that he knows well, now he has to have the fortitude to follow through with his beliefs rather than listen to the negative press about him needing to adapt and change the way he sets up his football teams.

    The beauty of the system is that whilst the formation on paper sets out to be 433, it very quickly evolves during transition from defence into attack into essentially a 4231 as shown below:


    So why not just start out with the 4231 in with that lineup? Then Dempsey can be in that position all of the time and not have to worry about having to move out wide and then we can have Dempsey only in a central position where he is most likely to get his goalscoring chances. The reason is to add the dynamism that was missing with the more static 4-2-3-1 formation and to create the disruption to the opposition structure needed in order to bring cutting edge to our domination of possession.
    Yes it is true that good players can make space for themselves and will produce moments of magic and that if we had kept players like Modric and VDV at the club we might have been able to break down a stubborn opponent like Norwich. But the philosophy of AVB’s football should make this even more achievable and it is the foundation his successes have been built on. If Dempsey is positioned off the striker primarily then he is likely to be picked up by a defensive midfielder more often than not as well as a central defender in there for company. Wherever Dempsey moves to from that central position he can be reasonably picked up by that defensive midfielder. What happened with us on Saturday, and also in the latter part of the season was teams were able to shut us down and stop our attacking midfielder (Saturday it was Sigurdsson) from affecting the game anywhere near as much as we would like and we weren’t able to get clear opportunities for either Sigurdsson (who we know can score plenty when he gets opportunities) or the striker. As at the end of last season without the high confidence and individual form we weren't able to break teams down and so we need to find something extra other than individual brilliance.

    If the team sets up with Dempsey on the right, the man picking him up is the full back. But when he cuts inside does the fullback follow him? That's difficult because we are likely to have Walker bombing on down that side and Sigurdsson (who can now occupy effectively the most attacking role of the central midfield 3) coming in to take that space. So by Dempsey moving off the right hand side he either drags the fullback across and leaves a big space for someone else to exploit, or he loses the man who was primarily having to cover him and another player from the opposition has to adjust to try to pick him up. So this movement has instantly created potential mismatches or spaces. How the opposition reacts to the situation can result in other opportunities for the team.
    Does CM2 come off Gylfi to follow Dempsey? Does the extra centre back come out to follow Dempsey? Either solution causes a problem, because if the man nearest Gylfi tries to follow Dempsey then he leaves the full back double teamed (if Sigurdsson bends his run to occupy the position left by Dempsey) or simply Gylfi in space if Walker has already bombed forward and space appears for Sigurdsson on the edge of the box. Scenario one is a danger for the opposition because we’d be able to get Sigurdsson into space to cross, which is ideal as he has an excellent whipped ball and could see him instantly becoming more creative than he was able to be at any point in his previous central role. Scenario two is equally dangerous as Sigurdsson is an excellent striker of the ball if he finds himself in space, again something that wasn’t so easy for him to do at the weekend. Not only is an opportunity created for Sigurdsson, but Dempsey is also more likely to have some freedom as the man who was on him at the beginning of the move is no longer the man following him.
    Alternatively the centre back comes out to occupy Dempsey knowing the goalthreat that he possesses. We then have a chance for Adebayor to split the two centre backs and have a lot of space in the box to score (and that is where he scored all of his goals from last season). The latter happened a lot with Porto and Falcao had an absolute field day with it because Porto had enough creativity to find him often. With Adebayor able to find space and a big gap appearing between the centre backs the ‘refreshing of possession’ suddenly becomes effective as the play can move from one gap to another.

    What happens then if the opposition decide to use a defensive midfielder to follow Dempsey from the right as a way to shut down Dempsey because he is getting too much space and having too much influence on the game? In that case, Dempsey takes one for the team, pushes forward on the right with Walker engaging the fullback and extra midfielder and allows a huge space for Sigurdsson to move into. That also means that because of the threat of the movement on the right side we’d have made the opposition alter their structure and adapt to what is happening on the pitch. This is very effective when the players on the left are as direct as Dembele and Bale. With the opposition overloading the opposite side to react to the threat posed by the Dempsy/Sigurdsson/Walker movement more space is allowed to Dembele and Bale and so transitioning the play rapidly to the left is going to allow them to isolate individual oppositions. This could mean Dembele picking up the ball in midfield and only needing to beat one man to be on the edge of the box and a chance to get into goalscoring opportuinities. With the static system we had in the previous game against Norwich this wasn’t likely to ever happen as we were proactively manipulating the opposition setup.
    Or the ball could get played all the way out to Bale, who would have a field day steaming down the left against a side that is struggling to stop our movement on the right. Bale is one of the very best at beating a man down the left side and delivering a cross into the box and whilst our available players in the last few games have meant that those crosses have lead to nothing if we are now able to use the aerial and physical presence of Adebayor (rather than having Defoe in the centre whose strength doesn’t lie on getting on the end of crosses) then Bale will start having more joy with his balls played into the area. In addition we now have Dempsey moving into the centre from the right and able to attack the back post, so we’ve gone from no threat on the end of Bale’s crosses to two huge threats. Bale’s wing play suddenly transforms from being explosive and pacy to actually being hugely productive. Of course if we are repeatedly getting joy down the left side the opposition has to adjust again and then we start going down the right again and reusing the imbalance we can create down the right side. This means that we never allow the opposition to settle and setup against our play and this is a tactic that was so effective for Porto and would undoubtedly be effective for Tottenham. But AVB has to believe in his own creation rather than listening to the critics saying that he can’t do what he tried to do at Chelsea and that he has to adapt.

    In an attacking sense, the right forward is absolutely the man that triggers the attacking threat, at least it was at Porto. At Chelsea you can imagine the issues with the senior squad having Sturridge with this key role and building the side around him but they didn't have another option. Lampard when he played was shoehorned into the creative midfield role that Dembele has in this formation and Ramires had the role of Gylfi. Whilst Lampard would certainly have got plenty of chances from the role Ramires played, that role needs a very willing off the ball runner who is happy going from central midfield to right. If Lampard was unwilling to also move out to the right and provide plenty of off ball movement then he wouldn’t have been able to play the role effectively. But Ramires probably wasn't enough of an attacking threat for him to affect the defensive structure enough, Sigurdsson offers both the ability to be a goal threat and the ability to be a huge threat from the right.

    I think the transition to 4231 from 433 would be dynamic and would happen fairly easily during play and Dempsey would definitely find himself in a central position more often than not. By having him stay right every now and then during the attacks it makes it difficult to set up against.

    Defensively when our attack breaks down Dempsey is almost always going to be central so his defensive role should be to press with Adebayor and to try and get the ball back early and high up the pitch rather than having to track the run of the fullback which is what is imagined of the right forward when looking at the 4-3-3 formation on paper. Instead Sigurdsson would support Walker down our right hand side and once the play is into our half Dempsey would slide back across to the right ready to be an outlet again. The pressing role of the forwards is essential in a lot of European football and winning the ball high up allows us to keep the higher line as long as possible whilst allowing our players to set themselves back into a tighter defensive formation.

    Obviously this is very simplified and players don't just stick in formation all of the time, but engaging certain players and then disrupting it with a dynamic changing of the formation is how I see it working in theory. I am sure that if AVB sticks to his principles the added dynamism of the 4-3-3 to 4-2-3-1 in transition would open up a lot more opportunities and our passing of the ball laterally would all of a sudden produce huge problems for the opposition.

    It will certainly take some serious effort for our players to get used to a new system. The system and philosophy have to be well communicated to the players because if they don't all buy into it, it doesn't work at all as seen at Chelsea. It wasn't only that they didn't have the right players to run the high line defence but also not all of the players were taking full accountability for their roles within the team and that there wasn’t enough commitment to the off ball movement that is absolutely essential for the passing cycles to be effective.
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Discussion in 'Columns' started by InOffMeLeftShin, Sep 3, 2012.

  1. GetSpurredOn
    I'm still unconcerned by our form, unlike my Spurs supporting work colleague. I feel we have specifically gone for a change of club culture, tactics the works. A new man who is not going to tinker his way through the short term, but change the whole structure with aspirations of repeatable long term success.
    On that basis, change will be slow and painful, but once that first win comes, the confidence it brings will fast track the changes.
    We have had a huge turnover of playing staff, including the spine of the team with King, Modric and VDV gone. It will take time to work past such a transitionx but in Dembele I feel we have secured a player who can slot straight in, then with Vertonghen coming up to speed, and Sigurdsson finding his place in our system, we will have replaced them, not like for like, but with younger more dynamic players.
    This international break has come at just the right time. The gap before the next game should buy a bit of breathing space for some of our new boys to bed in a bit.
    There is talent in abundance, but they just need to gel, both with eachother, and a new manager and his system. It will come, and once it takes off, we will be flying.

    AVB out talk is laughable. Levy has made his change of manager, he must allow him time to start making his own changes, and out transfer dealings have not made it any easier. Lateness, and missing out in Moutinho. But still, with what we have, we can and will make it work, we're just a bit behind due to the timings of our transfers, and now will have to settle in on the fly...

    Good times ahead.
    • Agree Agree x 4
    • Optimistic Optimistic x 1
  2. JerryInGranada
    Yeah, me too i'm wondering what the problem was?
  3. ikan
    Not pleased with the two home games but willing to give AVB another 7 more games before start panicking. AVB need to get his act fast. Dembele and Adebayor need to be given more time play and so is Caulker. When AVB was hired as head coach, I am aware that patience need to be given and I am more than willing to do so. The only thing is that AVB need to be slightly ruthless on his selection process and play the proper players. We are not like Liverpool as we do have the players to make the system work, AVB just need to tinker around with his requirement. Come on AVB ... grow some balls!
  4. OnTheUp
    When AVB is sacked, sometime around Christmas time, I reckon InOffMeLeftShin should throw is hat into the ring as his replacement.
  5. jackhealy
    I agree with all those who say "give it time". With a new manager, new players, and a new and unfamiliar system of play, it's not surprising we are not top of the league.
    As the guy said above, we have a break in which to try to perfect the players' knowledge of the new style of play, and to get used to eachother.
    All considered, it's encouraging that we haven't been leaking more goals. We have a very talented squad, and ultimately it's the talent of your players rather than the ingenuity of your strategy that counts. Given our propensity to concede late goals, could I suggest that for the last 15 minutes we should try the old 10-0-0 formation, or "park the team bus", just until we have acquired a bit more confidence.
  6. jackhealy
    There's nothing like positive thinking.
  7. OnTheUp
    Quite right, sacking AVB would be a very positive move for Spurs.
    • Like Like x 1
  8. Thesoccershrink
    IOMLS: Great effort. Please collect a Masters Degree in football tactics. HOWEVER...

    Perhaps its semantics but you suggest AVB should not adapt. Perhaps you meant not give up his fundamental philosophy but that is not the same as adaptation.

    Adaptation is the key to success, in anything. You can start out with a philosophy but within that you always need to be looking to how that can be best adapted to any given situation, be that weather conditions, the scoreline, a team that "parks the bus," available personnel, etc.etc. As a psychologist I know that the ability to adapt is often a function of experience and "maturity." The conventional psychological wisdom is that it takes ten years of doing something to reach full potential, in part because this experience teaches you precisely how to adapt. Which means that AVB will be a better manager in 5 years than he is now. It doesn't mean he won't succeed or isn't good now but the ability to develop a philosophy that is open to constant adaptation will, in my opinion, be the key.
  9. avonspurs
    For those wishing to compare IOMLS's analysis against a seasoned professional such as Shearer, the latter can be viewed at

    For those with a short attention span, and unable to read all of IOMLS's very insightful column, you'll be pleased to know that Shearer's analysis, as to be expected from him, is very short. In fact, practically non-existent. For a running through of the history of the last 3years or so, it's concise but don't expect anything more.

    I also particularly like Shearer's multiple use of single line paragraphs.

    They really make the column look long.

    Even if it only comes to approximately 100 words.

    I wonder if he used a ghost writer?

    He probably did.

  10. scottlag10
    Let me offer 3 simple ideas to help us improve:-
    1. Lets not play two defensive midfielders in home games where we have to break teams down.
    2. Somebody take charge of the defence and actually 'call us out' as soon as the ball heads away from goal.
    3. When we are defending corners and free kicks lets leave Defoe and Lennon up the field, forcing the opposition to keep 2 maybe 3 men back.
    Not rocket science is it!
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  11. noahrobert
    Really well thought out post and in agreement with most things...

    I agree that AVB should just go for it and use the belief system that has got him noticed thus far. I think the important point you made was NO WINGERS in a 433, spot on.

    I would see the merits of pushing Bale back to attacking full back in a system as follows;

    Lennon. Ade. Dempsey.

    Sandro. Gylfi. Mousa.

    Bale. Vertonghen. Kaboul. Walker.

    Giving space for Bale to his thing, with a high defensive line it wouldn't be that different to a 442 tracking back winger role, hopefully giving license to be a bit more attacking, with walker hanging back a bit when bale goes for it.

    Lennon inverted keeps pace in the team and can link with bale on attacks, providing distraction for Lennon, and Lennon providing distraction and space for bale, pulling the opp. Full back out of position.
  12. sussex.spur
    Summary: we will improve when we have a regular midfield of Parker, Dembele and Sigurdsson and a front three of Bale, Adebayor and Dempsey.

    It will also help a lot to get Kaboul back, because Gallas is too slow and tires in the second half of games.

    But what I don't understand is why, with the current formation and players available, we started Saturdays game with JD rather than Adebayor?
    • Like Like x 1
  13. DHMadboy
    do you watch american football, just your understanding and analysis of AVBs tactics looks just like a John Madden moment. Superb article, now if you can just write it in crayon so footballers understand it ;)
  14. Gaz_Gammon

    Got to say that Shearer pretty summed up what i saw on Saturday. Little width and direct wing play attacking football from Bale or Lennon. With Reading, QPR and a trip to Old Trafford coming up that will be half a dozen games for AVB to have made some kind of cohesive difference to the way that he wants Spurs to play. At the moment it's frustrating to watch Spurs but one couldn't have picked an easier run of games to start with for any new Manager.
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  15. JoeT
    Much as I hate to be one who is making "predictable murmurings of dissatisfaction", I question whether football, as a team game, is purely about x's and o's......because if it is then there is always a tactic that the oppostion coach can use to stop one's attacking formation, (for example, in the scenarion analysed by our IOMLS, by instructing his right-side CM to drop back with the central Spurs attacker when this scenarion attacking pattern develops.) Then it will often become a battle of skill between the attacker and defender.....and in all probability the better individual player will prevail.
    When the Miami Heat won the N.B.A. championship this year, there may have been periods of games when they were outcoached but usually when their coach recognized what the opposition was trying to do he responded with a counter-system.....and a certain Lebron James to carry it out.
    Whether Sigurdsson and Dempsey - the two main cogs in this attacking machine - are capable both in skill and fitness - of carrying out AVB's plans we shall have to see.
    Great way to start a discussion though IOMLS!
  16. jolsnogross
    The most worrying thing about that article is that it said "(part 1)".

    It's another of these pseudo-intellectual tactics essays that simply assumes the opposition is too dumb to counteract player movement. Instead of a fraught tactical analysis, full of "solutions", "dynamism", "refreshing possession", "mismatches" and "belief", you could have just said, erm, "run the fu*k about a bit" off the ball. But such plain spoken direct English isn't in vogue in this brave new tactical world.

    Of course we can have success with any formation from time to time, but as soon as it becomes a repeated pattern leading to goals, an opponent will be on to it. Unless the players we have are in superior form and are simply unplayable, which can happen from time to time with Bale and Lennon etc. A vast amount of this essay spent ages describing how Dempsey or Lennon can move inside and cause the full back to make a decision. How is that any different to 4-4-2 and the winger doing the same thing. And is'nt "refreshing possession" just old hat for shifting the ball from one wing to the other as fast as possible to force the defence to realign often - again, a cornerstone of 4-4-2. I'm not advocating 442, I'm just saying that the idea that this 433 business is somehow new and untried in England is nonsense.

    And of course, a simple solution for the opposing team to the right-sided attacker moving inside is to have their left-winger put a shift in to track Walker back, while Dempsey runs into a crowded central area. Or in AVB's current team, they could just let Walker free to cross because god knows Defoe wont get his nut on it in the middle.

    The idea that almost religious adherence to a system will lead to our success is deeply worrying and despite the authors claims I hope it is untrue. I thought one of the benefits of AVB was that he wasn't an adherent to just one system, and that he'd change things up quite often. At the moment, he's more worried about not losing a game than trying to bloody well win it. You see that in his formation, with two defensive central midfielders at home. That's a keeper, a back 4, and 2 defensive mids - 7 defensively oriented players - at home to Norwich. And you see it when he subs off forwards for holding midfielders soon after we score. He's been outmaneuvered by Pardew, Clarke and Hughton, whose teams all finished the games much stronger than we did to the point of us desperately hanging on.

    Be braver AVB...the goal isn't to bore the opposition to death and all that.
    • Like Like x 1
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  17. jolsnogross
    The high defensive line is a tough one for us defensively in England because opposing attackers are all at least as a fast as our back line, and usually faster. The direct style of play makes it easy to just lob one in behind the back line. And our high line requires our forwards to close down very effectively or else it's relatively easy for opponents to counterattack with speed.

    But another problem with it is that is reduces our ability to counterattack with speed, which used to be one of our major strengths. If our defence is 20-30 yards further forward, and we get possession back, there's no space to run in to or to pass a release ball in to. We've compressed the room we have to work in to take advantage of our speedy wingers.

    I wonder if Bale will be tried at left-back again to raid from deeper?
    • Agree Agree x 1
  18. GetSpurredOn
    I've not been overly impressed with Gallas so far, infact I suggest he may be there to provide leadership.
    With Parker's return on the horizon, I'd like to see Caulker step into right centre half, he has the presence not to get bullied, and showed last year he can play a bit too.
    Parker captaining as the one DM, his reading and covering should allow the fullbacks to attack more, and take the attention off our wider forwards. Sandro as the box to box wrecking machine, with Dembele further forward providing the cutting edge. Then, as sub option, Sigurdsson to take up the position as the advanced midfielder, buzzing around off Adebayor, similar style to what he did for Swansea last year. Dembele can move deeper to make our midfield more attacking in personnel, but still retaining some level of defensive robustness. Dempsey, maybe off the bench as a wide forward would offer some added impetus in closing down, whilst being a threat coming in at the stick.
  19. eddiebailey
    The tactical analysis is fascinating, but players influence games more than coaches.

    AVB may have come up with a tactical approach that can give us an edge, but if it nullifies the strengths of our best players, then to make this approach work better than what we already have, we have to dismantle our squad and hope we can sign players just as good who can work the system.

    VdV did not fit the system, Bale, Lennon, Defoe, Friedel, Huddlestone and Dawson do not fit the system. So what beckons is not evolution but revolution, and we will not be able to judge AVB until he has broken up the team that punched above our financial weight in getting us fourth, and brought in the players he needs, assuming Levy backs him with the cash to do so.

    If AVB cannot fit tactics to players then, if Levy thought he has a magic bullet in terms of a tactical masterplan, he should have been much bolder in breaking up Redknapp’s team, in particular in cashing in on Bale who could be in for a miserable time at Spurs this season.

    As it is I can see us struggling to rise above mid-table as AVB fails to make best use of the strengths of the squad he has inherited. I hope I have misjudged the man, but the more his tactical genius is laboured the more worried I get.
  20. jondesouza
    Eddie, I've been using the exact same phrase underlined above for the past couple of weeks. In my opinion we didn't need revolution but that's exactly what we've got - with all the attendant problems you've identified. That doesn't necessarily mean AVB will fail and I for one certainly haven't written him off. It does mean the task is necessarily much more difficult than it might have been however.

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