Bad Smells: Poor Implementation of Tactics

I’m not going to bore you with details about AVB’s tactics and why it works or doesn’t work, which I’m sure everyone has read all too much about. In this blog, I’m going to write about the implementation of these tactics.

Flexibility is good

In October, I wrote a blog about the first green shoots of AVB displaying tactically flexibility. I stand by that wholeheartedly. A manager should change small facets of their tactics from match-to-match. The game in question for the blog above is Aston Villa at Villa park. This was a great game to scrap the high line because Aston Villa are such a brilliant counter-attacking side and play with a deeper, bunkered defense as we did. I only noticed this slight change after I re-watched the match such was its subtlety.

Inflexibility is needed

Small changes like this to the outline of a team’s tactics are acceptable and I’d like to see them more often that not. For example against teams like Sunderland and Fulham, I’d have like to the tactics regarding shot-taking to be to shoot quite impetuously because Fulham concede lots of low quality chances (and a few high quality because Fulham). You know the next chance won’t be too far away. Against the likes of Liverpool, I’d like to see a pass-into-the-goal ethos because Liverpool concede few chances but high quality chances. Also, this would help to stop Suarez and co. from scoring or even creating chances because you can’t do that without the ball. Can ya?

The Ghost of Harry

Dare I say it but against in AVB’s last four games versus Sunderland, Fulham, Anzhi Makhachkala and finally Liverpool, the tactics the team employed was reminiscent of Harry Redknapp’s ‘fuckin’ run around a bit’ pseudo-tactics. Some times we’d counter-attack, sometimes we’d play the percentages, sometimes we’d play a bunkered defense, sometimes we’d play a high line, sometimes we’d play two inverted wingers in a search for key passes, sometimes we’d play two traditional wingers in search of crosses (with Defoe in the middle because yolo), sometimes we’d play with Sandro, Dembele and Paulinho with  high pressing, sometimes, even rarer still with the same players, we’d sit back and form a ‘christmas tree’ in order to force the opposition wide.

So basically, I have no idea what Villas-Boas’ tactics were in the last 4 games of his tenure with Tottenham Hotspur because from game-to-game or even in-game there was a massive variation between the tactics employed.

I do, however, know what Villas-Boas’ most desirable tactics were. High pressure, high line, possession-based, pot-shots from range (but let’s all blame Townsend for that), pragmatic, keep things tight, little emphasis on crossing. They’re just a few of the buzz-terms used to describe AVB’s tactics.

nota bene: This could have been the players. There was rumour that some players didn’t understand the phrase; ‘phase of play.’ If that’s the case, then we might as well liquidate all our assets. Andre may have had a clear vision for how we should play but the players were too dogmatic, docile or dumb to implement it.

Unfortunately, this tactically vision became all too dispensable during the last spasms of AVB’s tenure. AVB has a lot of reputations. Reputations as a number of things, the majority of them are fabricated by the media. One of these reputation is as an inexorable, inflexible manager unwilling to deviate from his tactics. One match in particular stood out and sticks in my mind.

It was Valencia-Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the Champion’s League on 6 December. Chelsea started playing long-balls up to Drogba, to be fair, it worked out. A total of 41 long balls were played during this game. In terms of passing, long-passing/ball football is the antithesis of Andre Villas-Boas. When he was in charge, I can’t remember Hugo Lloris kicking it long with any frequency. 9 times out of 10, it was a short ball to one of the CB’s. Drogba had a great game. This isn’t to detract from the decision, just to point out that AVB isn’t the impenetrable cur the media branded him as and this is bad.

If you’re going to do something, do it right

Just to put a bow on this blog. Brendan Rodgers, to be fair to him, never deviated from his vision for Liverpool even when they were a laughing stock this time last season. It has always been possession based with a bunkered defense and a heavy, heavy emphasis on through balls. There was brief change in formation from 4-2-3-1 to 3-4-1-2 but the tactically outline stayed the same. This article here discusses the difference, or lack of difference between 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-1-2. 

The last month or so of Villas-Boas’ tenure at Spurs, his vision for us became all too dispensable in search of short-term benefit and results. Some of the blame here has to go on Daniel Levy here. He mustn’t have given AVB the security for him to feel like he could afford a run of 10/15 or so bad games. I’m not#LevyOut or #ProfitNotGlory even still Villas-Boas shouldn’t have dispensed with the basic outline of his system. The connotation of this is that the players are confused as to what their responsibilities are. This definitely showed every time we played because, my god, we were shambolic.


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