Injury problems and no Moutinho leave Villas-Boas' Tottenham midfield rudderless

With injuries piling up, Spurs' 1-0 loss against the Latics has highlighted the midfield deficiencies in the Portuguese manager's squad and the need for January reinforcements
By Ewan Roberts at White Hart Lane

Bile rained down on Andre Villas-Boas as he oversaw a second successive home defeat, this time against lowly Wigan rather than the reigning European champions, which compounded a miserable week for Tottenham.

Knocked out of the Capital One Cup in mid-week, winless in Europe and home form verging on diabolical, fears abound in the terraces that this is the “real” AVB, and he’s Actually Very Bad.

Yet Spurs sit in fifth spot in the league table, level on points with Everton, and remain very much in contention for that much-desired Champions League berth despite being gripped by an injury crisis almost unparalleled in the division.

The home side faced the Latics without Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Younes Kaboul, Mousa Dembele or Scott Parker, while Sandro was forced off the field after 20 minutes. Additionally, Spurs are also still adapting to life without two world-class talents: Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart.

And yet the home crowd, wrapped up in notions of “the Tottenham way”, were anything but sympathetic. Boos rang around a stadium that had been deafeningly quiet, save for a few groans, in the 90 minutes that preceded the full-time whistle.

There is a ludicrous notion that Villas-Boas has deliberately opposed Spurs’ lofty allusions (or should that be delusions?), that he’s chosen for his side to play turgid, impotent football. That’s simply not the case.

Spurs have a chronic lack of options up front and in midfield, and against Wigan they were forced to field Tom Huddlestone (who was on his way out of the club until he failed a medical at Stoke) and Gylfi Sigurdsson in midfield.

Two slow, immobile players incapable of pressing aggressively in the manner that Sandro and Dembele have done so successfully, and that was becoming Spurs’ calling card under Villas-Boas.

Huddlestone especially is a player that needs to be carried, protected and compensated for. In his stand-out season of 2009-10, when Spurs qualified for the Champions League, he had the tough-tackling, unflinching Wilson Palacios enforcing on his behalf. Against Wigan he had Sigurdsson.

Sigurdsson and Huddlestone sat back, allowed James McCarthy and Ben Watson to weave between them, and were defined by a timidity that simply does not exist when Sandro is patrolling the middle third.

Unable to bully opposition midfielders like the Brazilian-Belgian duo, Spurs’ Icelandic-English combination also offered little offensively, rarely feeding the wide-men and allowing Spurs frontman – whether Emmanuel Adebayor or Jermain Defoe – to become isolated, cut off from service.

Some fans called for 4-4-2, and were riled by the manager’s decision to retain just one striker when chasing the game; notions erupted that the anoraked coach, a one-man think tank preoccupied by a penchant for 70-page dossiers, thought himself above such an “old school” formation.

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Villas-Boas was, rather, unwilling to further sacrifice a pedestrian midfield that was being overrun and outmanoeuvred. Reverting to 4-4-2 (and, it’s worth noting, Dempsey played as a more auxiliary number nine anyway) would have handed further initiative to the Latics.

Other fans, however, looked up to the director’s box, at chairman Daniel Levy, and bellowed insults in his direction. One yelled, “At least your bank balance looks nice!” Some, then, see a different root cause of Tottenham’s problems, and it lies away from the manicured blades of grass at White Hart Lane.

Levy is a conscientious, responsible chairman, but that’s quickly forgotten with the acidity of defeat still gnawing at the insides and especially when that frugalness has come at the expense of squad depth and appropriate player recruitment.

Villas-Boas’ problem is one of personnel, not philosophy. His preferred style of play is totally akin to what Tottenham fans want and expect, “the Tottenham way” is as much a part of his DNA as it is the Tottenham faithful’s.

But he does not have the players capable of playing that brand of football. Without a deeper playmaker, of the Joao Moutinho mould for example, Spurs are rudderless, an orchestra without a composer, incapable of sustained, penetrative final third possession.

And without another of Villas-Boas’ primary targets, Shakhtar Donetsk’s Brazilian attacker Willian, they have no one who flourishes between the lines, no one capable of unlocking defences or linking play in tight space. Instead the ex-Porto boss must rely on last-minute panic-buy Dempsey.

Even Dembele, so impressive at Tottenham (who have won just once without him, and have a 100% win record with him), does not fit the blueprint of player that Spurs so desperately require - namely a brave, progressive passer and midfield metronome.

Regardless of his assertions to the contrary, Villas-Boas needs January fast. His season of transition has begun without the players necessary to realise his vision while his overseer has so far denied him the requisite tools to mobilise his revolution.

Villas-Boas is not completely blameless for Spurs selection problems though, and has created a few of his own; the continued rejection of Hugo Lloris essentially cost Spurs a goal, while Adebayor represents a more rounded, complete threat than Defoe in a lone role.

But losing at home to Wigan - just as Spurs had done two years ago under Harry Redknapp, who’d later describe the season as Spurs’ best ever – does not mean Villas-Boas is floundering, and he should be judged only once his chairman has backed him in the transfer market.

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