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There are glimpses of a very good team indeed emerging at Spurs.
One might say that you should bloody well hope so, given the amount of money spent on their squad this season, but of course knitting together what is basically a new side is not an easy job for Andre Villas-Boas.
A frequent comment/complaint about Villas-Boas's Spurs is that the Portuguese coach doesn't know his best side but such a concept is perhaps outmoded now that a squad is much more important than just a 'team'. What is more relevant is that Villas-Boas seems to still be working out how he wants his side to play, rather than the specific identity of the men chosen to implement such a plan. Villas-Boas has so many options that he at least has choice, but this blessing may also be a curse because it makes the job of getting everybody pointing in the same direction a little more complicated.
In the first half in particular against Villa, Spurs were disjointed, with their defence incredibly wasteful in possession. On more than one occasion they were very lucky to get away with giving the ball away when trying to play out of defence, and on others they extricated themselves from a self-inflicted pickle by passing back to Hugo Lloris to hoof clear. It was a muddled style, to say the least.
Often Spurs had the deficiencies of a pretty ordinary Villa side to thank for not being behind, but after the break they improved greatly. Townsend was more threatening, while Paulinho recovered from an uncharacteristically poor first half to add some control and composure to the middle of the park. This was combined with calmer play from the back and quicker attacks, mostly directed down the flanks - 42% of their attacks came down the left, 35% down the right, a slight curiosity given the ostensibly lop-sided nature of their starting XI with Gylfi Sigurdsson on the left and Townsend on the opposite flank. In addition, all but two of their ten 'key passes' throughout the 90 minutes came from wide areas.
Roberto Soldado's play was another element that improved after the break - in the first half he seemed fairly sedentary, almost waiting for the ball to come to him, but after half-time his work rate and movement improved, and was rewarded with his goal, brought about by some delightful interplay between Lewis Holtby and Paulinho. While it's a terrible cliché to say Spurs scored at a good time, Soldado's goal seemed to kill off a Villa rally brought about with the introduction of Christian Benteke.
This was how one imagines Villas-Boas wants to play. It was a game based on pace and counter-attacks and was very effective, and now he needs to figure out a way of ensuring that Spurs manage it for longer than 45 minutes.
What was perhaps most encouraging for Spurs about Townsend's performance was that he seems to have eliminated some of the predictability from his game. One of his problems was that any full-back would pretty much know what he was going to do - run at them, quickly, then cut inside. This isn't necessarily a bad tactic (full-backs often say they hate wingers doing that as, much of the time, it attacks the defender's weaker side), but Townsend could have become too one-dimensional and thus easier to deal with.
However, against Villa he took the ball down the line, on his right-hand side, much more often. Perhaps the England performances gave him more confidence to try new things, perhaps he'd been told to add a little variety - whatever, it was a welcome development for Spurs. The irony of him scoring a goal by eschewing his usual tactic of cutting inside and shooting in favour of a cross that drifted past Brad Guzan, will not be lost.
Spurs have seemed to be a work in progress this season, but after a summer overhaul like theirs that is hardly surprising. The glimpses are there, and the true test of Villas-Boas's management is whether he can expand upon those, and how quickly.
Nick Miller - follow him on Twitter
You called it boys... The beast is back... Sandro ran the show !!- parklanespurs