I’m truly struggling to see the logic behind the rumors of AVB getting sacked. It just doesn’t make sense. After our embarrassing defeat at Manchester City, I must’ve read ten articles that pathetically picked apart AVB, and listed a bunch of unemployed managers that were apparently on a “shortlist” to replace him. Trouble is, those managers pale in comparison to AVB, and AVB is not yet to blame for the shortcomings of our team. Now, that’s not to say I totally agree with all of AVB’s decisions on the starting XI, but the team fielded for our 2-2 draw with Manchester United evidenced, at least for me, AVB’s keen knowledge of this team, the quality of his vision for this team, and his ability to rectify past mistakes. The first of which was fielding Lewis Holtby against City.
It’s a mistake I’ve been consistently upset with, and a mistake which I believe negatively effects the most crucial part of this team: the relationship between midfield and attack. Not only was Holtby’s positioning questionable (often dipping into defense unnecessarily) but he consistently looked uncomfortable on the ball, often taking touches away from goal even when faced with minimal pressure. Coming off at halftime was the most productive thing he did all day.
But I don’t mean to make Holtby a scapegoat. He’s a very capable back-up to Dembele in the “middle midfielder” role, in between the No. 10 and defensive anchor. And even though I attribute a lot of our season’s disappointment to his inclusion in my past articles, the team as a whole against City looked fragile and deathly lethargic. Michael Dawson started to resemble last season’s Gallas, and Lloris looked surprisingly similar to Heurelho Gomes, our unplayable goalkeeper who is summed up by Google’s first search suggestions when you type in “Heurelho Gomes” (“Heurelho Gomes crying”, “Heurelho Gomes mistakes.”). Few positives were taken from the match aside from a brief interval of half chances following Navas’ first goal and before City’s second. But Away at City is a game we never should anticipate winning, and thankfully, rather than a 1-0 or 2-0 loss that can be dismissed, the 6-0 scoreline brought realizations from AVB, realizations that he should stick with his gut and his initial vision for this Tottenham side.
Which leads me to a short comment about this summer’s transfer window. The most curious signing was, of course, Paulinho. Bringing in a box-to-box midfielder seemed a potentially unnecessary yet welcome addition, but more importantly, for many, signified an imminent step toward a 4-3-3, with mass speculation pointing to AVB’s vision of a midfield trio consisting of Sandro-Dembele-Paulinho. But then Eriksen was signed and nobody knew where exactly this Tottenham side was going. But I’ve thought from the start that Eriksen was not a first choice, and rather a somewhat compromised purchase since Chelsea snatched Willian from under our noses. Basically, I believe Willian was supposed to slot in where Sigurdsson and Chadli fit in, in a wide attacking midfield role. But since we didn’t get Willian, a player with the creativity of a No.10 yet with enough pace to slot out wide, we had to settle. Rather than Willian, we bought the slightly more centrally inclined Eriksen who instead of providing pace and creativity on the left, offers similar qualities, but mostly from a traditional No. 10 role. In short, AVB has been forced to compromise his initial vision (creativity on the wings, combined with a powerful box-to-box midfield) due to transfer complications, injury, form, and mediocre results. However, as seen in our Manchester United draw, his vision for this side is a quality one and although it is somewhat unorthodox (lacking a traditional No. 10), all of our season’s results have pointed to the necessity of its reemergence. Especially since my last article, one that recommended Paulinho as the furthest forward if Eriksen hypothetically got injured, unfortunately jinxed Eriksen and came true.
And that’s why I believe AVB’s quality of initial vision shows that he needs to stay. Our performance against United was as encouraging as I’ve seen, mostly because the starting XI finally made sense. Sandro has been brilliant all year, Dembele has always been a necessary liaison between defense, midfield, and attack, and Paulinho has been the standout signing of the season. I’ve called for this trio in past weeks, and now that Holtby’s suicidal downfall against City has finally sobered up the fans calling for his inclusion, we can move forward as a team, backed by a consistent, powerful, and above all balanced midfield trio.
After all, it’s always come down to our midfield. It’s the one area where I can say confidently we have the most potential and depth of any team in the league, and the one area that is begging for consistency. While some call Dembele or Paulinho not creative enough to play behind the striker, I really disagree, but only if they’re fielded together. Because both players are what I would call “half-creative,” players who have the potential for beautiful passes, but have tremendous strength on the ball that allows them to have the offensive impact without the agility or subtlety of a traditional No. 10. For the first time all year, I think we got a glimpse of AVB’s intended midfield, a true trio for the first time rather than a fragmented double pivot loosely associated with a No. 10. The quality of this showing even somewhat convinces me that Eriksen, when he returns, might be given a chance on the left to try and replicate the man he seemingly replaced in Willian and complete AVB’s perceived vision.
But above all, even after a gross November, I’m encouraged. And with the fans violently roaring for the full 90 minutes, it was a game that showed the importance of this Tottenham side coming together. The importance of a fluid trio, the importance of trust in AVB, and above all the importance of collective faith behind this growing Tottenham side. Because if we can shoot ourselves twice against Manchester United and still overwhelmingly boss the game, the future looks promising. But only if we come together as a midfield, and more importantly, as a team.
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