This time last year, Andre Villas-Boas’ Chelsea were beginning to again look like a genuine threat to the two Manchester clubs for the title, lying in second place. However, this was the highest position AVB would experience as sergeant of the Stamford Bridge army. From here on after, Chelsea would slowly slip down the Premier League table and firmly into the land of the unknown for a club of Chelsea’s stature; Europa League places.
A year on, AVB finds himself in a similar role, only this north of the Thames and liberated from a chairman who has gradually becoming Chelsea manager one of the hardest jobs in world football, overseeing 8 managers in his 9 years in charge. Whilst Daniel Levy has seen a slightly a modest figure of 6 managers in his 11-year reign, one thing that is clear, Levy is becoming increasingly expectant of Tottenham becoming, and more importantly, remaining as one of the Premier League’s ‘top clubs’, which leaves no reason to suggest that AVB will at the Spurs realm this time next year, should things not Tottenham’s way this season.
One crucial difference this time round is the reduction in expectation of the former treble winner with Porto. Spurs will be expected to challenge on all fronts this season, with the end product hopefully being a place amongst Europe’s elite in the 2013/2014 season accompanied maybe by a cup run, which is something well within their means, even more so considering the six hugely talented players AVB has brought in. In Dembele and Dempsey, Spurs very cleverly have added not just two brilliant players, but a proven partnership to their squad, which is perhaps priceless given the persistency of Dembele throughout a number of Clint Dempsey’s 23 goals last season. If Dembele’s direct play can complement the technical work of Sigurdsson and the speed and creativity of both Lennon and Bale, then Spurs will unobjectionably be challenging for a Champions League place, or maybe even more. Add to this the solidity of the back three in Lloris, Vertonghen and either Gallas or Kaboul, along with the very exciting Kyle Walker and Benoit Asso-Ekotto, and Tottenham look like a force now whilst there is a platform for greater things to come in future, which is perhaps AVB’s biggest strength.
There’s no doubt AVB would’ve learnt a lot from his time with Chelsea which again leaves him mentally stronger to overcome any dips in form, which was a problem for AVB’s Blue’s last year who failed to regain 3rd place following their terrible 3 month dip, which saw them slip from 4th in late December to 5th and firmly out of the title of the race by the start of March, which may or not be down to the continuous conflict between himself and Chelsea’s elite players.
Fortunately, there is a much less greater sense of player power at White Hart Lane, with most want-a-way stars securing a move away from north London, as evident with Modric, Van Der Vaart, Kranjcar, Dos Santos & Corluka. In a nutshell, it appears AVB is working a full squad of players who are in full support of him as a manager, which facilitates a stage for which confidence can be deeply embedded within the new-look Spurs squad, an ingredient many Redknapp critics felt Spurs lacked in abundance last year, especially in the latter half of the season. If AVB can transform his 6 summer signings and current squad, which collectively represents talent in abundance, there is no doubt Spurs will be amongst Europe’s finest next year and also seriously challenging for the title itself within a few years
However, whilst Roman Abramovich has as much patience as a pressure-cooker, AVB wasn’t fired from Chelsea entirely for no reason, and there are some big issues he needs to address as the pioneer of life after Harry if he is to ever be as successful as Harry, let alone eventually surpass Redknapp’s work in turning Spurs from a Europa League club into a genuine threat in English football.
AVB often came up short against big clubs as Chelsea boss, especially at home, losing at home to both Liverpool and Arsenal before throwing away a 3-goal lead at home to Man Utd. Moreover, across the 14 away games AVB oversaw in the Premier League last year, Chelsea won just 5. If you are to challenge amongst the Premier League’s very best, there are two hurdles any team must overcome. The first is ensuring a good record against those around you. AVB simply cannot afford 2 losses in as many home games again, against Arsenal and Liverpool or in fact any other club. The second is ensuring a good away record. Away games calls upon the very stuff which separates those in the Champions League, and those in Europa League, and also those in contention for the title and those who are simply experiencing a run of form; courage and determination. If Spurs are to serve as genuine challengers to 3rd or 4th place this season, they must become more ruthless away from home. Last year, winning 6, losing 6, and drawing 6 on the road was enough to secure 4th place for Spurs, however it wasn’t enough to secure a Champions League spot. Given the unfortunate Champions League success for Chelsea, such an away record is not one of a club which wishes to play in the Champions League regularly and grow from thereon after. So far, Spurs have lost one on the road, and drawn two home-games 1-1 against teams which really should’ve been beaten in West Brom and Norwich respectively, which immediately suggests similar form to that seen at Chelsea
AVB’s biggest challenge lies in creating a new-look Spurs team with fluidity and chemistry. It’s not enough to sign a host of promising signings, as seen last year whereby AVB spent in excess of £70 million, as only two of those players blossomed into worthy signings; Cahill and Mata, representing £30.5 million, under half of the total amount spent. AVB isolated Lukaku and wrongly-used Sturridge as a winger, at a time when Torres was mis-firing which is goes against the traditional title-winning formula of a minimum of 3 established strikers. This time round, AVB must find a way to effectively use strikers Defoe, Adebayor & Dempsey. At the minute, it seems unlikely considering his favoured 4-5-1 formation. Also, as Dawson and Parker remain Spurs players, they cannot simply be isolated from the picture if AVB is to win over the players for the first time as a manager in England. Both Livermore and Sandro are unfinished talents in midfield, and the same can be said for Caulker at centre half, which implies AVB could fall short again should he disregard experience in favour of youth.
So it would indeed seem that Spurs are set for a transitional season in one way or another, whether that be a transition into a more regular Champions League team or one which may see them push more towards mid-table mediocrity remains unknown. If AVB can replicate another 4th place finish, then Spurs fan will indeed condemn this season as a successful one. However, for a manager across two of the strongest London clubs in the Premier League, 3 wins in his last 15 league games in England is an alarming record. What’s more, given the vast squad re-shuffles seen in their London co-parts, Chelsea and Arsenal, coupled with the Merseyside threat of Brendan Rogers tiki-taka Liverpool and the forever growing Everton along with the challenge posed by Newcastle as one of the newer, ‘big clubs’ in the league, it certainly will not be a straight forward route to stardom for AVB.
My prediction? As a Chelsea fan myself, should we have not won the Champions League, I would still be under the belief that AVB was the right man all along for Chelsea, he just needed more time and confidence from his superiors. At Spurs, he enters a less-expectant environment, however, he also cleverly again enters an environment upon he can build a legacy, similar to Mourinho. For this reason, coupled his 6 summer signings, his futuristic outlook and of course, Gareth Bale, I believe AVB will grow to be a success at Spurs and do expect to see Tottenham Hotspur in next year’s Champions League.