Villas-Boas keeps it simple as Vertonghen impresses on first Tottenham outing

The Portuguese coach appears to have learned from his failed stint at Chelsea if his new side's friendly victory over Stevenage on Wednesday evening is anything to go by
By Jay Jaffa

For Tottenham and Andre Villas-Boas, Wednesday night's 2-0 victory over Stevenage marked the start of the new season.

It was the first real opportunity, discounting the behind closed doors friendly with Brentford and the Spurs XI game against Kingstonian, for the new manager to observe his players in a competitive friendly. Overall his first impressions will have been positive.

Those concerned that the Villas-Boas era would instigate revolution rather than evolution would have left the Lamex Stadium reassured that much of Harry Redknapp's good work would not be consigned to the scrapheap.

Since taking over from the 65-year-old, Villas-Boas has had nothing but positive words for the job accomplished by the previous regime and this was recognised again post-game.

Vertonghen seeks Spurs success
Villas-Boas said: "It’s nothing uncommon with what Tottenham have done in the recent past, playing with the No.10 behind the striker. I think it’s what the players at the moment feel the most comfortable with.

"Of course changes will come when we need them."

That closing line is crucial – Villas-Boas seems self-aware enough to recognise that asking too much from a team drilled in a particular way would impact negatively on what the club are trying to accomplish. A few tweaks here and there is all that is needed to refine their style – and hopefully results.

The performance itself bore all the hallmarks of Redknapp's Tottenham: the 4-2-3-1 formation he used for much of last season, the flying full-backs supporting the wingers and a dominant possession-based game.

Talk in the last two weeks has centred around Villas-Boas's preferred 4-3-3 style, but it is not wholly different to what Spurs are most adept at playing and in that sense it seems a wise decision to stick with the familiar.

The game itself was not the most thrilling of spectacles but over the two halves and between the 22 men used, there were flashes of the flowing football that garnered so much praise last year.

In the first half, Steven Pienaar stood out as the liveliest Tottenham player, constantly seeking possession and showing the fleet of foot many fans expected to see from the South African when he arrived at the club. Doubts linger over his long-term future but as is the case with any managerial change – doors open, sometimes for the most unexpected beneficiaries.

The second half saw Tottenham turn the screw, partly through the increased pace of the game and partly because of the ability of Stevenage's second XI – very much a team of fringe players and trialists.

But credit must go to a number of players who took their opportunity to shine. Tom Carroll's nimble footwork and speed of thought kept Spurs ticking along well, while Andros Townsend put in a superb 45 minute shift, terrorising his marker, notching one assist and laying on clear-cut chances for the forwards.

Though two youth team products shone, it was a far from impressive display from Harry Kane, Tottenham's lone striker. The 18-year-old is still very much in the formative stages of his development but cannot point to pre-season rust as an excuse given he has just returned from England Under 19 duty.

Despite the close attention he received from the Stevenage defenders, Kane did have two fantastic opportunities – possibly the best two of the game, including the goals - but both were spurned.

Of course, the reason many away fans travelled to Stevenage was to cast an eye over Villas-Boas's first two signings, Jan Vertonghen and Gylfi Sigurdsson, who were both given 45 minutes in the second half.
Vertonghen looked composed on the ball, occasionally venturing over the halfway line before erring on the side of caution and keeping his shape. Doubts over his speed quickly subsided as he kept pace with wideman Liam Enver-Marum to recover and distribute the ball.
11/2 Andre Villas-Boas is 11/2 to leave Spurs in the 2012-13 season with Paddy Power

Further upfield, Sigurdsson adopted the No.10 role behind Souleymane Coulibaly and Kane, finding room in the box to swivel and finish his first opportunity in a Spurs shirt. He showed an incisive side as well, feeding Coulibaly before setting off the move for the second goal with a measured volley.

Strictly speaking, neither David Bentley or Sigurdsson were restricted to the role of second striker – both rotated with their midfield partners and moved deeper when the moment dictated and perhaps that is the first sign of Villas-Boas's desired shape.

Certainly, much will be gleaned from the games against LA Galaxy, Liverpool and New York Red Bulls as the club step up their preparations with next week's tour to the United States.

In keeping everything simple, Villas-Boas buys time from the press and patience from the fans. In fact, the only lingering concern would be for the well-being of new assistant manager, Steffan Freund, after he almost inadvertently knocked himself out while embracing goalkeeping coach Tony Parks pre-game.

Ultimately though, Villas-Boas passed his first test, deploying a system familiar to the players and ensuring he did not ask too much of them too soon. On first viewing, it seems he has learned a lesson or two from the failed revolution at Chelsea and that has to be healthy for all concerned.

Follow Jay Jaffa on