This weekend’s match between Sunderland and Tottenham at the Stadium of Light presents Andre Villas Boas with the opportunity to round off his first half season with Spurs in style. Three clean sheets in a row, including a 1-0 win ground out over a resilient Swansea, and a 4-0 Boxing Day thrashing of hapless Aston Villa have seen Spurs climb to a position in the top four, representing what is undoubtedly the club’s target this term.
A sticky start for Villas Boas has given way to a series of results that the club’s hierarchy might expect after a decent outlay on players, and is beginning to match the expectations of the fans, heightened by the excitement and league performance of the Harry Redknapp era. Spurs seem to have found in themselves a new steel that was previously absent, able to recover from setbacks such as the 2-1 reverse at Everton in which the Lilywhites were leading until the last. Such a morale-sapping outcome against a team neck-and-neck with Spurs for a Champions League place might have brought about a mid-season collapse, but AVB has rallied his troops, and they have responded in kind.
The aforementioned clean sheets, including a 0-0 battle with the seemingly perpertually improving Stoke City is a testament to the belief in the manager that the players must hold. Throughout the season, players such as Jermaine Defoe, himself in arguably the form of his Premier League life, William Gallas and Clint Dempsey have come out in support of their at times under siege boss. Now the performances and results are matching the positive words. Villas Boas is bringing the very best out of a talented squad and actually improving upon it. It’s scarcely believable after the past few seasons that Gareth Bale’s game could have been enhanced, but a license to drift into more central positions has seen the Welshman plunder more and more goals, including a hat-trick at the Villa Park shooting gallery on Wednesday.
The signings made over the summer too, look to now be settled into the way of life at White Hart Lane. Moussa Dembele, having recovered from injury, has brought the form that catapulted him into the public consciousness whilst at Fulham. Clint Dempsey has linked well with the likes of Bale and Defoe, while Gylfi Sigurdsson looks also to be a creative force, and goals will surely follow the recent number of assists he has made. Jan Vertonghen, meanwhile, has been a revelation, reminiscent of a young Rio Ferdinand. Good on the ball, and at bringing the ball out of defence, he is calmness personified when distributing the ball and in the tackle. Vertonghen differs from Ferdinand only in that he has the extra attributes of having an eye for goal and a stinging shot from dead ball situations.
By the time they head into their game on New Year’s Day at home to Reading, Tottenham could conceivably be in third place, with Chelsea, that position’s current occupants, facing a tough trip to Goodison Park on the 30th. Add to that an exciting tie against Lyon in the knockout stages of the Europa League, and a great opportunity for progression against League One Coventry in the FA Cup Third Round, and the prospects for Spurs look good.
Firstly though there is the small matter of a trip to Wearside and facing a rapidly improving Sunderland side. On a high from putting distance between themselves and the relegation scrap with a win at Southampton, victory and a clean sheet in their last match over the champions Manchester City was no mean feat, and represents a significant hurdle if Spurs are to continue their recent progress. If they can clear it though, Andre Villas Boas will be optimistic that the New Year could bring about a successful season for his new club, and that the job that he was brought in to do, to take the White Hart Lane club beyond the level reached by Harry Redknapp, can be achieved.