x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

It's time for Tottenham Hotspur to show their mettle against Fulham

Tottenham have a history of imploding at the business end of the season Premier League season. After two successive defeats, it is up to Andre Villas-Boas to steady the ship, writes Jonathan Wilson.

Andre Villas-Boas has worked hard to repair his image 12 months after being shown the door at Chelsea. Michael Regan / Getty Images
Andre Villas-Boas has worked hard to repair his image 12 months after being shown the door at Chelsea. Michael Regan / Getty Images

It is a year and a week since Andre Villas-Boas was dismissed as the manager of Chelsea, 53 weeks in which he has taken the fractured shards of his reputation and reassembled them into something rather greater than the original.

In that time he has had to overcome doubts about his own abilities and as to whether Harry Redknapp should have been replaced.

And now he faces probably the biggest test of all: scepticism over the nature of Tottenham Hotspur as a team.

Tottenham play host to Fulham today after two successive defeats. Both were explicable - two crazy defensive errors cost them against Liverpool last week and they seemed to think the Europa League tie against Inter Milan was already won before they had even set foot in Italy for the second leg.

They survived a huge scare to eventually go through on away goals after a 4-1 defeat in extra-time.

But Tottenham are a club in which explicable setbacks can quickly bleed into the memories of traumas past. This is a club whose nature is narrow failure, usually in the most farcical circumstances possible, as when a bout of food poisoning undermined them on the final day of the 2005/06 season as they lost to West Ham United allowing Arsenal to take the fourth Uefa Champions League slot.

Having reached the last eight of the Europa League, Spurs face six games in 15 days, an exhausting schedule that could destroy their season if form falters.

Villas-Boas, though, remains confident. "All of us want to win things in our lives," he said.

"I think it's sometimes a misconception that having less games is easier. It will give us tremendous mental stimulus if we manage to go through to the semi-finals. The more you work in a week the more you tend to overload the players with training.

"That can often be a mistake and make them more tired. I think the objective of a European trophy means a lot to every single club and to the players as well."

A year ago this week, Tottenham, then as now in third place in the Premier League, lost 1-0 at Everton, a third successive defeat, and one that allowed Arsenal, then fourth in the table, to close to within a point.

The assumption had been that after Redknapp was cleared on tax evasion charges, Tottenham would kick on to a glorious finale to the season.

But then Fabio Capello resigned as the England manager the day Redknapp was cleared, the speculation that Redknapp would take over seemed to destabilise the team and they capitulated to finish fourth - which, with Chelsea winning the Champions League, consigned them to the Europa League.

The possibility of Redknapp leaving led to Tottenham considering alternatives and made him seem less irreplaceable, and he was replaced by Villas-Boas last summer.

Although his record with Porto was excellent, Villas-Boas's inexperience seemed to have been exposed at Chelsea, where players reacted badly both to his intense, technocratic approach and his attempts to overhaul an ageing squad.

While many accepted that was necessary, the sense was that Villas-Boas had tried to do things too quickly. In retrospect, and given Chelsea's continuing problems, the task of reinventing the club looked increasingly thankless.

And Redknapp, despite the late season slump, had been popular, perhaps less so with fans than was often imagined, but certainly with journalists who warmed to his no-nonsense approach, his friendliness and his quips.

Villas-Boas, by contrast, was not fun in press conferences, adopting an odd discourse that was part training manual, part self-help book and part business jargon.

That should not matter, but it did affect the coverage he got, which in turn shaped the mood of fans.

At Tottenham, though, he was noticeably warmer, and not just to the press. He has made a point of talking to players about things other than football and apparently regularly texts them jokes.

A poor start that saw Tottenham take just two points from their first three games created a mood of vague discontent, which now seems a distant memory with Gareth Bale playing superbly and Spurs playing a compact, high tempo style far more reminiscent of Villas-Boas's Porto team than anything he achieved at Chelsea.

But just as it seemed Villas-Boas was vindicated, as Tottenham beat Arsenal 2-1 in the North London derby earlier this month to cap a run of 12 league games unbeaten, their best since 1984/85, there has come a wobble.

If this is not to become another case of typical Tottenham, of failure snatched from the jaws of victory, of mental collapse, it needs to be arrested quickly.



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