Man of the match at Villa Park? Andre Villas Boas. He will have known that had Spurs lost, or even drawn this game after the West Ham trauma, the knee-jerkers in the press and social media would have jumped all over him. And remember, this was a venue where the richly endowed Manchester City had been turned over just three weeks before. Any team would approach the game with trepidation but one fresh from a jolting reverse might have been fatally nervy. Instead the ice cool AVB’s selection, tactics and powers of reassurance and motivation combined to fashion a consummate away performance.
All season he’s resisted changing the Premier League line up unless forced to by injury. But here he made four eminently sensible changes. Knowing that the first goal would be crucial and that Villa would field an industrious, stifling midfield he thickened up his own central section by introducing the colossus Sandro and the hyper active Holtby. Instead of persisting with right back Naughton at left back he asked Vertonghen to switch outside and brought in the super classy Chiriches in the centre. And having watched Defoe labour ineffectually against West Ham he restored Soldado up front. All of these decisions were vindicated in a first half which saw Spurs match Villa for grit and have the better of the glimpsed opportunities.
In the second, his substitutions were equally admirable in conception and timing. Bringing on Lennon after Villa had a mini revival following Benteke’s introduction was clever. His extra pace gave them something new to worry about and his defensive tenacity was more than handy.
Following Soldado’s brilliant strike, replacing the tiring Holtby with the muscular, ball-retaining qualities of Dembele was just the ticket. Bringing on Defoe for Soldado in the closing minutes not only freshened the attack but gave the away end the chance to show its appreciation for the Spaniard, salving any remaining dejection he might have harboured after his temporary demotion.
This victory brings joy not just because of the points or Soldado’s beautiful finish, Townsend’s continued brilliance and Chiriches seamless assimilation but from the confirmation that, in AVB, Spurs have a boss you wouldn’t swap for any other in the Premier League.