Tottenham picked up their second away win of 2012 to claim the first three points of the Andre Villas-Boas era. A stylish performance saw Spurs overcome Reading 3-1 through two goals from Jermain Defoe and one from Gareth Bale.
The Portuguese coach sent out his team in his preferred 4-3-3 formation, with two creative players in the midfield triangle rather than the two defensive midfielders to date. With Sandro assuming the lone defensive role, Moussa Dembele and Gylfi Sigurdsson assumed the more attacking roles. The team appeared more balanced and composed.
Despite Reading setting up in a 4-5-1, Spurs enjoyed the greater possession, especially in the first-half. This may have been down to the slight positional changes from Spurs. Bale played narrower on the left, closer to Sigurdsson, Dembele and Defoe, ensuring his position was kept with patient play. Only when the opportunity seemed right was the probing ball played. It may be too early to say after one game, but the signs are promising that in this line-up the centre midfield the balance is right.
Dembele might not be a natural deep lying playmaker, and may not have the same balance to twist away from the opposition as Luka Modric, but this seems made up for by more strength on the ball and willingness to dribble. Coupled with a 91% passing accuracy over 90 minutes, is the Belgian the right replacement for Modric? Dembele certainly was the creative hub, and playing deep there appears a formative understanding when receiving the ball from international colleague Jan Vertonghen, who himself looked to have another encouraging game. The Belgian revolution is certainly flavour of the month, but Spurs appear to have signed two of the best.
Width was offered by Kyle Naughton – in for the injured Assou-Ekoto – pushing higher up the pitch. On the right, whilst on average Kyle Walker was also positioned around the half way line, it was Aaron Lennon who probably played highest up the pitch of all Spurs players. This allowed Lennon to close down and play high against Ian Harte, and it was this that led to Spurs’ first goal, a Sigurdsson pass inside Harte allowing Lennon to run in and cut back for Defoe to score.
Perhaps surprisingly Defoe started again ahead of a fitter Emmanuel Adebayor. Coach Villas-Boas appears to have brought out the best of the England international, playing as a lone forward. This is not the same role as Adebayor would take, but a deeper position to run on to the through ball or receive from the more forward Lennon seems to suit Defoe.
This positioning may also have contributed to Defoe not being offside once. With most expecting him to be dropped for last year’s outstanding striker Adebayor, is Defoe repaying the faith put him by Villas-Boas?
Arguably, the team still needs time. Patience is still required by the fans. Glimpses have been seen in previous matches how well Spurs can play, but this was a more consistent performance. Perhaps a corner has been turned. Spurs fans will hope so.
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