Andre Villas-Boas’ journey in English football has so far been somewhat tougher than the early part of his managerial career. While the Tottenham Hotspur coach seems to be finding his feet a little, the visit of an unbeaten Chelsea will see him face the very fresh demons borne through eight months at Stamford Bridge.
After knowing near nothing but victory at FC Porto, becoming their most lauded coach since his oft-compared-to counterpart Jose Mourinho, his time leading Roman Abramovich’s costly charges was a fraught affair throughout. After a sticky start, though, he seems to be rediscovering his mojo at Spurs.
Without a win in his first three games, including dropping four points in the final minutes at home against West Bromwich Albion and Norwich City, the familiar death knells that had haunted his time in London were already beginning to sound.
A rediscovered vigour
However, with four successive league victories under his belt, he has all but put a stop to that. Furthermore he seems to be recreating the formula for the flowing, counter-attacking football from his Porto days that friction at Stamford Bridge prevented him from concocting a year ago.
Boasting a pacy and attack-minded midfield including Gareth Bale, Moussa Dembele, Aaron Lennon and Clint Dempsey among its ranks, the potential for expansive, attacking play is there for all to see. Their performance at Old Trafford last month typified that.
They broke a 23-year winless run away from home against Sir Alex Ferguson’s side to record a swashbuckling 3-2 victory over Manchester United. “It was a victory for the team,” Villas-Boas said after the game.
“Our work-rate was immense, our spirit, we played extremely confidently in the first half. We deservingly went 2-0 ahead and in the second half showed the spirit that has been fooling us in the last couple of weeks.”
Now sat in fifth, Villas-Boas claims there will be no personal vendetta in mind when Chelsea arrive for tomorrow’s early kick-off at White Hart Lane, just the communal goal of UEFA Champions League qualification.
“It's not on an individual sense that I'm looking forward to the match, it's on a collective level. When you play the unbeaten leaders of the league, you can use that motivation towards the game,” the 35-year-old said. “It will give us a chance to finally break into the top four and join the elite of the Premier League. That's what we've been wanting for quite some time.”
He arrived in west London in June 2011 on the crest of a wave that saw him claim four trophies in his first season at the Estadio do Dragao. He was accused by many of rocking the boat too hard, though, at Stamford Bridge, alienating himself from many of the senior figures at the club and trying to alter Chelsea’s more defensive and powerful style too quickly.
With him gone by March 2012, looking on the brink of a European exit, his assistant Roberto Di Matteo took them to Champions League glory playing the very style of football the Portuguese had tried to eliminate.
Now, though, with the attacking additions of Eden Hazard and Oscar, Fernando Torres almost exclusively leading the line, and Juan Mata in fine fettle, they are starting to reflect a side that Villas-Boas might have had in mind when he arrived – something he seemingly didn’t expect.
“Chelsea are a tremendous attacking force, something that is surprising everybody. There are a lot of creative players in that team offering all types of solutions, movements,” the former British Virgin Islands and Academica coach said.
“We understand this mobility behind Fernando can cause you problems. It is going to be a difficult game but we are showing a good level of competence. We hope to profit from the fact that we are playing at home and against an unbeaten league leader.”
The games have always been tight affairs, just one triumph apiece in their last five meetings and both were slender 2-1 home wins. Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic expects his former coach being in the opposing dugout to add a bit more spice to what tends to be a tasty clash.
“Our games against Tottenham were very interesting and tough for both sides even before Andre went there,” the Serbian international said. “Now it is especially so for both sides with our ex-manager. It will be difficult in one way and in the other way we know what is the idea and what we can expect of them.”
With a win for Spurs set to bring them within two points of the Blues, as well as the bonus of handing them a first defeat of the season, the motivation from bench and field will be high for those in white, despite the history.