Whenever a new manager comes in, it’s undoubtedly going to take time to instill new ideas across to the players, regardless of the calibre of the man that has arrived. This is most certainly the case with Tottenham Hotspur. Over the summer, Harry Redknapp was ousted as manager and Andre Villas-Boas drafted in as his successor.
Out went the often outdated tactical nous of the veteran boss and in came the devilishly handsome young tactician who, regardless of his time with Chelsea, still knew a thing or two about managing. Under Redknapp, Spurs utilised the 4-4-1-1, with the pretence of delivering the ball to the maurading wingers to drive at the full-backs and look to put the ball in the box.
The system was heavily dependent on the deep lying playmaker and a ball winning midfielder to succeed, while giving the left and right-backs the license to break up the pitch and support the attack. It was easy on the eye and, at times, an unmitigated success.
Under Villas-Boas, however, Spurs have since adopted a 4-2-3-1, which is similar to the aforementioned 4-4-1-1, but allows Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon the chance to push further forward to support the lone front-man.
Like any new system, however, it is taking the players time to get used to. Kyle Walker looks a shadow of himself last season, while the performances have certainly dropped, despite Spurs finding themselves in 6th, just three goals behind 4th placed Everton.
Calls for a return to 4-4-1-1, or 4-4-2 however you may look at it, have been echoing around White Hart Lane in recent weeks and, after persisting with the 4-2-3-1, Villas-Boas listened to the people and reverted back to the familiar formation for the Europa League encounter with Maribor on Thursday night.
90 minutes and a 3-1 win later and fans are heading back home happy after an impressive performance against the Slovenian outfit. Some believe a return to the system instigated under Redknapp is the way forward, starting with the trip to Manchester City on Sunday.
The problem is, if they do play 4-4-2, Spurs are going to get absolutely obliterated. The formation against weaker teams at White Hart Lane due to away sides’ reluctance to attack the North London side may be fine when at home. Yet, regardless of the win over Maribor, and away at the Premier League champions, the 4-4-2 will see the Citizens carve open the midfield with minimal ease.
It’s fair to say that a pairing of Tom Huddlestone and Tom Carroll in the middle of the park is technically strong, but the duo are too immobile and too small, respectively, to counter act the powerful City midfield.
If Spurs line up 4-4-2, Yaya Toure will charge through the team like a hot knife through butter, not to mention the space Samir Nasri and, should he return from injury, David Silva will exploit. It’s absolutely pivotal that Villas-Boas reverts back to his 4-2-3-1 for the encounter, or even possibly line up in a 4-3-3.
Packing the midfield, especially if Sandro is fit to start the encounter, will be absolutely vital if Spurs are to come away from the Etihad Stadium with at least a point. If the Brazilian hasn’t recovered in time, coupled with the hip injury to Mousa Dembele, sacrificing Jermain Defoe, despite his hat trick in the Europa League, for Jake Livermore will provide the extra cover and steel in the middle of the park, especially if he lines up alongside Huddlestone.
Furthermore, despite making just one Premier League appearance this season, persisting with Carroll could be the key to securing a positive result. Influential in the win over Maribor, setting up Defoe’s second of his three, the youngster is likely to cause havoc from deep, should he be given the opportunity to do so.
With summer arrivals Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson failing to deliver since signing for Spurs, the chance for the 20-year-old to impress further is available for him to grasp with both hands. Not only will packing the midfield provide the necessary protection to the full-backs, but it will allow Bale and Lennon to support Emmanuel Adebayor to greater effect.
The Togolese striker only started his first competitive encounter under Villas-Boas on Thursday night, but it’s clearly evident that he is the man to lead the front-line, regardless of the goalscoring exploits of Defoe this season.
He’ll hold up the ball, bringing others into play, and will undoubtedly want to impress against his former employers. While it may not be fair on Defoe, the fact of the matter remains that he can’t lead the line on his lonesome.
In defence, the back four all but picks itself. It’s in goal that question marks begin to appear once again. Both Brad Friedel and Hugo Lloris made mistakes that led to goals over the past week, but it’s surely time for the latter to come in to replace the former.
Friedel is still a good ‘keeper, don’t get me wrong, but his reluctance to stray from his goal-line is a cause for concern, while his distribution leaves a lot to be desired. Lloris, on the other, is quick to the feet of attackers and is comfortable on the ball.
However, it’s his distribution that will be of vital importance against City. With the hosts likely to attack from the off, Spurs will have to rely on the Frenchman if they are to catch the Citizens on the counter-attack, with Lloris’ ability to pick out a man in space likely to bolster the North London sides chance of breaking quickly and efficiently.
Either way, it is pivotal that Villas-Boas reverts backs to the 4-2-3-1, or 4-3-3 however you choose to look at it. Playing 4-4-2 will, effectively, be suicide from Spurs, especially with the power and speed of City’s midfield and attacking line.