Andre Villas-Boas goes in search of light in a dark place
Tottenham manager set to ring changes for clash against Tromso
Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas during his side’s 6-0 loss to Manchester City. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images.
The results have been poor, the manager has no long-term future and dark skies frame the scene. These are, indeed, testing times for Tromso, a small Norwegian club from inside the Arctic Circle who will tonight attempt to add to the problems of Tottenham Hotspur.
The teams meet in what is, on the face of it, a meaningless Europa League group K tie, with Tottenham having already qualified for the last 32.
For Andre Villas-Boas, though, the sub-zero occasion at the 6,000-capacity Alfheim Stadion will be an opportunity to begin the recovery process after Sunday’s 6-0 Premier League humbling at Manchester City. The manager’s future has come under serious scrutiny and not only because of City, rather the worrying drift in his fortunes since the 3-0 home defeat by West Ham United on October 6th.
The tie against Tromso is hardly the main event of the week. Manchester United visit White Hart Lane on Sunday for a match in which Villas-Boas desperately needs a good result. But there is now a little more interest in events at this Norwegian university town, where pitch darkness currently grips at lunchtime.
It should be a stroll for Spurs on the synthetic pitch. They demonstrated their superiority in the fixture at White Hart Lane in September, when the 3-0 win was marked by comfort, and since then Tromso’s soap opera of a season has spiralled.
They sacked the manager, Agnar Christensen, in early October, promoting his assistant, Steinar Nilsen, as the interim replacement, but he could not prevent relegation from Norway’s Tippeligaen – the season finished on November th.
The club is financially stricken and might not have made it this far in the Europa League, having lost to Besiktas in the play-off round only to be reinstated when the Turkish club were disqualified. Nilsen knows his managerial role is temporary. He will oversee the game against Spurs and the final Europa League tie, at Sheriff Tiraspol, on December 12th.
There is likely to be a second-string feel to Villas-Boas’s line-up as he looks to rest the internationals who travelled long distances during the most recent break. The Portuguese used this tournament last season to drill into the players his match-day methods and to build momentum, but this time he may need them to provide evidence for his defence.
In the face of criticism of the team’s attacking shortcomings, he has pointed to their goalscoring record in all competitions, which stands at 32 in 20 matches. Tottenham have nine in 12 league fixtures but Villas-Boas can massage the numbers with the Europa League.
Spurs have one of the three 100 per cent records in Europe’s second-tier tournament while Tromso have managed only four shots on target in their four games.
For Tottenham victory would guarantee they advance as group winners, ensuring they play the second leg of their last-32 tie at home. But the real business this week is against United.