It is fair to say July has been far more agreeable for Tottenham supporters than the last couple of months. They can boast a new manager in the form of Andre Villas-Boas as well as their first signing in Gylfi Sigurdsson.
But while forums and pub conversations may revolve around the merits and limitations of incoming players, Villas-Boas’s arrival heralds a much more uncertain time for the Spurs squad.
Under Harry Redknapp Spurs predominantly played 4-5-1 last season in a relatively fluid, positional free-for-all. Though Villas-Boas is primarily referred to as a coach who prefers 4-3-3 there are small tactical nuances that, if he communicates well enough, will render Tottenham a more polished outfit.
At this early stage, the questions are: Where do Spurs need to strengthen? Who is likely to be deemed surplus to requirements? How will Villas-Boas mould this team into his own?
With the club’s summer transfer window finally kicking into gear, I analyse the five key issues Villas-Boas will need to consider and identify how the current crop of Tottenham players will fit in.
The effect of the high defensive line
The high defensive line; a cocktail of the courageous and the downright suicidal. As seen at Stamford Bridge last season, Villas-Boas’s insistence on a back-four pressing the opposition to the point of lunacy, was Chelsea’s (and his) undoing. It seems more sensible to avoid the debate surrounding the rights and wrongs of that particular ploy and focus on why it relies so heavily on the personnel.
If, as expected, Jan Vertonghen completes his move to White Hart Lane, replacing Michael Dawson at centre-back (though conceivably Steven Caulker could be trialled too), Villas-Boas would preside over one of the quickest back-fours in the league. In Kyle Walker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto, he would have the athletic full-backs so key to his system, while Vertonghen, Caulker and Younes Kaboul both offer reasonable pace for centre-backs.
The high line does require a ferocious pressing game further upfield as well, and the midfield and forwards will be asked to push on and deliver the high-intensity defensive work needed to ensure the opposition do not have time to play balls behind the backline.
Of the first-choice rearguard under Harry Redknapp, Assou-Ekotto seems the only potential casualty of the new regime. Though a genuine cult figure at White Hart Lane, he has been singled out as the weak defensive link for Spurs. With his laissez-faire attitude to the game and a dubious attention span, the high line could pose him questions.
The wide forwards
It is highly likely Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon will need to adapt their game next season. The role of out-and-out wingers they were assigned under Redknapp looks set to be a thing of the past with Villas-Boas. His time at Porto saw the left-footed Hulk operating on the right flank and the right-footed Silvestre Varela from the left. Rather than attempting to hit the byline and cross for the awaiting Radamel Falcao, the two forwards were deployed as genuine goal threats.
It could work in Bale’s favour but it is unclear if Lennon will fit the system. Chants of “he plays on the left” may finally be rendered futile for the Welshman and his penchant for drifting to the other wing could become more than mere cameos next season.
The Lennon question is harder to solve. He has been known to occasionally move to the left and has shown he is capable of nipping inside and scoring with his right foot. Yet much of his career has been spent attacking his opposite full-back and making inroads in the space outside them. Villas-Boas’s biggest challenge could be moulding Lennon into the wide forward he needs.
Alternatively, the rumours surrounding the interest in Oscar, a 20-year-old attacking midfielder with six full caps for Brazil suggest Villas-Boas may already be sourcing a fresh approach.
The striker situation
There is a dearth of striking options at Tottenham following Louis Saha’s release and the expiry of Emmanuel Adebayor’s loan, leaving just Jermain Defoe at the club. Unfortunately for Defoe, it appears he is unlikely to fit Villas-Boas’s system – a set-up that requires a striker capable of occupying two centre-backs – something he has shown he is incapable of doing.
Adebayor is believed to be Tottenham’s main target and although his worth is a topic of much debate between fans – his all-round game outweighs his penalty box profligacy – realistically for a team without Champions League football, he is probably the best available, proven striker the club could sign.
The advantage Adebayor brings to the team is an ability to move into channels and vacate space for the other midfielders around him. This was often an under-valued part to Adebayor’s game and indirectly led to a number of goals over the course of the season. Though critics would often wonder just why the only striker on the pitch was fleeing his natural territory – the penalty box.
Even putting that aside, he is a fine footballer and one who has caused Premier League defences a torrid time over the years. His link-up play is good and he seemed to be a well liked individual, despite having embarked on a difficult career move.
The midfield trio
The central midfield three will be key to Tottenham’s style next year. As alluded to earlier, much of the defensive side to Villas-Boas’s system relies upon a midfield taking a proactive approach to putting the opposition under pressure. Therefore, a hard-working, technically proficient and quick midfield trio is essential.
At present, Luka Modric’s future is uncertain and although losing the Croatian would be a bitter blow, it is not to say the Spurs midfield would be lost without him.
In the past Villas-Boas has employed an anchorman sitting deeper than his two partners in crime. Sandro has shown in his two years in north London that he is an excellent destroyer and the same can be said of Scott Parker. However, the latter offers less craft on the ball and could well be a victim of the managerial change. He is also dealing with a troublesome Achilles injury that may curtail part of his pre-season.
Sigurdsson has been signed to add a much-needed goal threat from the midfield and alongside either Rafael van der Vaart – whose future is also uncertain – and the return of Tom Huddlestone, Spurs look to have strength in the middle of the park. Huddlestone’s ability to pick a pass was missed at times last season and welcoming him back to the first-team will feel like a new signing.
The lack of pace, however, could hamper Villas-Boas’s pressing style and it would not be a surprise to see another central midfielder added – particularly if one of, or both, Modric and Van der Vaart depart.
Shedding the trouble-makers
Perhaps the biggest change for Villas-Boas will be casting off some of the more outspoken players. His downfall at Chelsea largely came about because of the disharmony perpetuated by the influential characters in the dressing room, and if he has learnt a lesson from his Stamford Bridge nightmare it may spell the end for players such as Van der Vaart.
William Gallas, another player with a history of trouble-making looks set to depart Spurs but it will be the loss of the talismanic Dutchman that may be Villas-Boas’s most controversial move.
Of course, it is entirely understandable that he would want to enter a new season with a group of players receptive to his methods and with the patience to adopt what is asked of him. There is little doubt a player of Van der Vaart’s quality could evolve and be part of a new system. But it is his candid nature, prevalent during Euro 2012 that may convince Villas-Boas to cut loose.
It would be a far from popular move, but is something that comes within the remit of managerial change. If Tottenham are to afford Villas-Boas the time he was not given at Chelsea, decisions such as this will need to be tolerated.
This article originally appeared on Goal.com