AVB Has a Defensive Midfielder Problem

Jamie McDonald

A look at AVB's struggle to close out games.

Andre Villas-Boas has developed a worrying pattern. When we go ahead, he likes to take off an attacking player for a defensive one to try and close out games. But more often than not, this plan appears to backfire. Kevin touched on this yesterday in his post-match reaction to the Norwich cup loss, but I wanted to go into it a little deeper.

Against West Brom we scored the go-ahead goal in the 74th minute. Three minutes later, Defoe comes off and Jenas comes on. We surrender all attacking impetus and bunker down, only to concede the inevitable equalizer to Lukaku in stoppage time.

The next week it's the same story. We take the lead against Norwich. Hudd comes on for Defoe. Three minutes later, Norwich equalizes.

Reading. We score in the 71st minute. Hudd comes on for Siggy in 72. Luckily we score again quickly in the 74th before Reading grabs an inevitable late game consolation goal.

Chelsea. Livermore on for Hudd. Concede 2 minutes later.

Southampton. Livermore on for Hudd. Concede.

Norwich. Vertonghen on for Carroll. Concede. Twice.

That's six games with six nearly identical outcomes.

Now obviously this doesn't tell the whole story. We've conceded other goals and lost other games without this change. And sometimes the sub was more about replacing a tired player with a fresh one. But ultimately, we can still see a negative trend developing in how this type of substitution affects our play.

The question we have to ask first is, is this a bad tactic, or do we just lack the personnel to make it work? Would a guy like Scotty Parker off the bench make this tactic justifiable? Perhaps. He's an excellent midfield destroyer and brings passion and energy to the pitch that could lift the team. But even so, without him fit and with the other players on our bench, employing this tactic clearly does not work.

And I'm skeptical that it ever will, even with Parker. With Defoe in the side, we don't really have an out ball to relieve pressure on the defense, and without a passer in midfield we essentially just invite wave after wave of attack. Scott Parker can break up play all day long, but if it just results in the ball going straight back to the opponent so they can try again, that doesn't really help us.

And that's not our strong suit. We need to play our game. Control the ball and the opposition can't hurt you. When Spain takes the lead, they don't pack the box with defenders. They just keep on passing the ball and playing keep away from the opposition. Obviously we're not as good as the World Champions, but the theory remains the same. The best defense is a good offense, and surrendering the initiative is not the Spurs way.

Hopefully AVB has learned from his experience and can figure out a new way to close out games without giving up late goals. If not, we're in for a long season of nervy finishes.

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