Lessons learned or horses for courses? AVB at Chelsea and Spurs

ZonalMarking.net's Michael Cox uses FourFourTwo's StatsZone app – now FREE – to see how Villas-Boas has changed between Chelsea and Tottenham  

This weekend sees Andre Villas-Boas’ first game against Chelsea since his sacking earlier this year – and a meeting with Roberto Di Matteo, his former assistant. But how similar is Villas-Boas’ Tottenham side to the team he managed at Stamford Bridge?

Spurs’ most recent game was at home to Aston Villa, a fixture Villas-Boas also encountered as Chelsea coach – although whereas he won 2-0 a fortnight ago, he suffered a humiliating 3-1 defeat last season. Still, the two games are useful by way of comparison, to study the similarities and differences between Villas-Boas’ two teams.

PressingThis was arguably the most obvious feature of Villas-Boas’ strategy at Stamford Bridge – he favoured closing down in midfield and a high defensive line that didn’t suit Chelsea’s centre-backs. The forwards were instructed to push up and prevent the opposition from passing out of the back, and weren’t given any defensive responsibilities in deeper positions.

While the approach was broadly unsuccessful, leaving Chelsea prone to passes played in behind their defence, they were effective at winning balls high up the pitch in the opposition half – which is shown by how frequently they won possession near the centre circle against Villa. Tottenham’s approach this season is similar, yet a little more reserved.

CrossingIn theory Villas-Boas’ Tottenham are very different to Villas-Boas’ Chelsea – last season he fielded Juan Mata on the left, coming inside into central playmaking positions, and Daniel Sturridge on the right, cutting onto his stronger left foot. Chelsea started as a 4-3-3, but sometimes ended up looking like a narrow 4-3-1-2.

Now, the Portuguese coach can call on two natural wingers – Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale. They’re much more likely to cross the ball, but in these two games Villas-Boas’ sides crossed the ball a similar number of times – and had similarly ineffective results.

Forward playThis is a clear difference – Didier Drogba received plenty of straight passes, making Chelsea’s attacks flow quickly towards goal, while Jermain Defoe only receives the ball from wider positions.

This illustrates not merely the two strikers’ separate qualities, but also the aforementioned contrast in terms of width – Chelsea tended to funnel things through the centre, while Tottenham are obliged to spread the play towards the touchlines.

Holding midfielderArguably the key player in Villas-Boas’ systems – he dropped Mikel in favour of Oriel Romeu midway through his tenure at Chelsea, and the Spaniard played a very solid, disciplined defensive midfield role, rarely straying from the centre circle.

Sandro is given more licence to switch positions with Spurs’ other midfielders, and consequently gets into more advanced positions. His passing is also more ambitious, but it’s worth noting that both complete a lot of interceptions, rather than winning the ball through tackling.

Goalkeeper distributionThis is something else that went wrong at Chelsea – Petr Cech was accustomed to thumping long balls forward towards Didier Drogba, but Villas-Boas ordered him to play short passes into the centre-backs or the holding midfielder dropping deep. Chelsea dominated possession but conceded cheap goals on a couple of occasions – at home to Liverpool, for example, when a short pass towards Jon Obi Mikel resulted in Charlie Adam nicking the ball and Maxi Rodriguez scoring the opener in a 2-1 away win.

Hugo Lloris is more suited to passing football than Brad Friedel, but against Villa it was noticeable that he hit long balls towards the left, for Gareth Bale to challenge for. It will be interesting to see if this strategy continues this weekend, when Bale will be up against Branislav Ivanovic, a fine player in the air.

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