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Tottenham Hotspur V Norwich City: Premier League tactical preview

Paulinho’s Spurs switch a sign of Villas-Boas’ desire to look to Porto past?

With the Fantasy Premier League getting back up and running this week we have already had people asking about the potential of some of the new summer signings as viable options for your Fantasy squad. Players such as Jesus Navas, Wilfried Bony and the wonderfully named Ricky van Wolfswinkel have all been mentioned as potential fantasy selections in recent weeks.

In addition to this the recent Confederations Cup gave us the opportunity to look at Paulinho up close. The 24-year-old collected the Bronze Ball as Brazil won the tournament on their own patch and impressed onlookers with his performances.

With this in mind we have a great guest post from the @FootballButler  who goes into detail over the role he expects Paulinho to play for Spurs and how this may lead to a change in tactics.

A great football insight and also invaluable research when scouting for your fantasy team!


Paulinho’s Spurs switch a sign of Villas-Boas’ desire to reinstate successful Porto tactics


Another Brazilian midfielder is heading east to ply his trade in the Premier League, and the tactical implications of Paulinho’s North London arrival could be indicative of a stark change in Andre Villas Boas’ Tottenham Hotspur tactics.

Villas Boas’ time in England has seen him predominately switch between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3, the former utilized this season at Spurs and the latter used at Chelsea.

His premature sacking from Chelsea and his switch to a 4-2-3-1 this year at Spurs might suggest that his old 4-3-3, most effectively used during his tenure at Porto, was a striking failure. Regardless of how you interpret the reasons for that tactical change, a £17m investment in a defensive midfielder is a huge statement of intent from a team playing in Europe’s second string competition, especially when a number of Spurs fans would have unanimously agreed that Clint Dempsey and Gylfi Sigurdsson’s underwhelming performances might have warranted a substantial investment in the attacking midfield role instead.

Paulinho will now become Spurs’ third high class defensive-minded midfielder, and it seems highly unlikely that if he, Moussa Dembele and Sandro are all fit Villas Boas would omit any of them from his starting XI. With that in mind, it’s not unreasonable to think that a switch to the 4-3-3- as so effectively used at his time at Porto- could be the framework for Spurs’ 2013/14 campaign.

Rewind two years and that Porto team was quite something, full of flair and individual excellence, exceeding all expectations when it claimed 2 domestic cups, an unbeaten season (by a record breaking 20 points) and the Europa league. It would be naive to assume that Villas Boas’ Porto side was just a team of good players- there were many tactical features to that side, a credit to his managerial ability.

Attacking full backs are by no means a tactical revolution, but Alvaro Pereira and Cristian Săpunaru bombed forward relentlessly. Hulk used his sheer power to cut in from the right to support the superb Radamal Falcao, while Silvestre Varela played a more withdrawn wide role on the opposite flank.
AVBs Porto

But the tactical highlight of that team was midfield rotation, an uncommon British tactical theme. The system primarily revolved around Porto’s no.6, the excellent Fernando, who tended to bomb forward despite being a pure holding midfielder, switching places with Freddy Guarin who usually had license to get forward, but would drop deep himself if Fernando advanced. With Joao Moutinho fulfilling an archetypal box to box role, Porto’s midfield had incredible variety, with opposition teams completely unable to track forward runs from anyone of those 3 midfield players.

Alas, midfield rotation- when it works- is hugely effective. Unfortunately, Villas Boas’ time at Chelsea proved that the Premier League was better suited with coping with such a system.

Villas Boas confessed his difficulties of applying that system to his unsuccessful Chelsea side:

“Our No 6 [at Porto, usually Fernando] sometimes became a more attacking midfielder and we tried to do that here [at Chelsea]. We decided it doesn’t work here, so that’s one of the things I have adapted. You lose a little bit of balance in the Premier League if you play that way. Transitions here are much more direct, making the importance of the No 6 to stay in position most decisive.”

Fast forward another 18 months and Villas Boas has yet to reinstate this tactic. But that could- could– be about to change with the signing of Paulinho. Whether Villas Boas is directly looking to reassert midfield rotation amongst his team is difficult to know, but Spurs now have the perfect players to carry out the system.

Moussa Dembele is a fantastically mobile player, and is perhaps one of the finest box-to-box midfield players in Europe- the role that Moutinho played in that Porto team. Sandro is perhaps a finer version of Fernando, an intricately intelligent player who almost certainly is able to rotate with Paulinho- should Paulinho operate the advanced Guarin role.

England currently seems obsessed with the midfield variety of a holder, box-to-box player and a playmaker in a 4-2-3-1, with each midfield player playing a well defined role. The genius of midfield rotation is that it creates a far more fluid midfield, and omits having certain ‘specialists’ within the team. Villas Boas might just about be ready to play his trump card again.

paulinho at spurs

On a final, more general note, the 2012/13 season seems to have accentuated the use of the 4-2-3-1. Bar Barcelona and Juventus, 6 of Europe’s 8 Champions League quarter finalists (Galatasaray, Malaga, Dortmund, Madrid, Bayern, PSG), and 5 of England’s top 7 (Arsenal, Liverpool, City, Chelsea, and Spurs) stuck to the system.

Granted, Barca (4-3-3), Juventus (3-5-2) and United (Ferguson played something like a 4-4-2 that looked like a 4-2-3-1) stuck to their own unique systems and found domestic success, but all three teams struggled in Europe.

If not playing the 4-2-3-1 is a path to domestic success by that rational, then perhaps Villas Boas’ acquisition of Paulinho could be a masterstroke in elevating to Spurs to Europe’s elite tournament. It’s still early days in this highly active transfer window, but Paulinho’s arrival could be the first major clue of changing tactical trends in the 2013/14 season.

How do you think Tottenham will do this season?? Drop a comment below


Follow the Football Butler on Twitter: @footballbutler

Many thanks to @footballbutler for the guest post. You can read more from them at


The Mini-League is now open for new entries – Click the Logo below for more information on how to join and read about our increased prize pot of £100 for the winner!!

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Premier League: Mid-Season Review (Part 1)

Guest Post from SuperGrover at a fantastic site for insight and analysis into the Fantasy Premier League!

FantasyYirma are pleased to feature this Midseason Review and will be updating the site throughout the week as part of an ongoing mini-series.

Don’t forget to drop your comments below and thanks again to

If you would like to submit a guest post for the site, contact Ryan at

Mid-Season Team Analysis – THE TOP SIX

SuperGrover has worked his socks off to bring you a comprehensive review of each and every team in the Premier League, providing his rating and insightful analysis on each team’s performances and how they have turned these into results.  A truly great read, this first part covers the current top six teams.

The festive holiday period presented games thick and fast, with numerous exciting and interesting results.  Rather than a week-by-week review, I have decided to use this time to present a mid-season team summary for each Premier League squad.  The summary consists of shot data (both for and against), expected goals (scored and allowed), and team ratings both for the full season and over the past six game weeks.  In addition, I offer a bit of my own analysis.

Note: Percentages represent difference with league average.  Defensive percentages have been reversed meaning a negative percentage actually represents defensive performance below league average.  The statistics for this article cover Gameweek’s 1-22 with the exclusion of the Chelsea-Southampton match from GW22.



Starting at the head of the table we have the attacking juggernaut that is Manchester United.  The Red Devils have dominated all-comers offensively, scoring seemingly at will whenever they threaten.  While the underlying numbers suggest Man United. have been a bit lucky offensively (2.5 goals per game is probably not sustainable – it was last season, SoT!), they are, and most certainly will continue to be, the best attacking team in the league (along with their cross-town rivals, of course).

Defensively, Man United have been better in seasons past, although they have allowed a few more goals than one would have expected given their shot and chance numbers.  Anecdotally, it seems opposition teams have a renewed belief in a questionable backline (the Reading game a prime example). Up till now however the typical United response has been to..score more and is responsible for the higher than expected goals on both sides of the pitch.

Fun Fact:  United have converted just 2 of 5 (40%) penalties this season.  The rest of the league has converted 34 of 43 (79%).

Prediction:  Normality returns offensively somewhat and the backline stiffens a bit.  Expect a slight reduction in goals on both sides the remainder of the season, but nothing that impacts their championship march.


The defending champions have had quite the first half.  Sitting seven points off United, City need to step up in a hurry if a Championship Title defence is in the cards.  Offensively, City have really struggled this season.  Statistically, they look every bit as dominant as they did last year, but they simply haven’t converted.  How much of this is due to Aguero’s fitness issues is unknown, but this team should be scoring more than they are.

Defensively, City are probably a bit better than they were last season, at least in the EPL.  They are very clearly the best defensive team in the league.  I don’t expect that to change over the remainder of the year.

Fun Fact: City have had at least 5 more shots in the box than their opponents in all but 4 games with only one opponent (Liverpool) able to equal their shots in the box total.

Prediction: Aguero finally gets healthy and the attack starts getting on track by the end of the month.  City make a run at United, but the 7 points are too much to overcome.  Second place and a new manager are on the horizon.


Two different managers and nothing much has really changed for the Blues.  They still remain a superb attack, focused around sensational midfield play by Mata and Hazard.  They have scored quite a few more goals than expected, possibly due to the 6 penalties scored, 2 more than anyone else and about 4.5 more than average.  Defensively, they’ve been more porous than the goals allowed suggest, with Cech leading the league in save percentage among regular goalies.  A top 4 spot looks almost assured with a game in hand and a 4 point lead over 5th.  Beyond that, the Blues will be playing for lesser cups both in Europe and domestically.

Fun Fact: Chelsea have scored 6 penalties and has only hit the woodwork twice all season.  Both numbers are easily the best among the top 10 teams.

Prediction: Chelsea keep on keeping on.  They firmly establish themselves as the 3rd best team in the league, albeit a substantial bit behind the top 2.

Spurs are an interesting club.  A mishmash of parts with world class talents sprinkled in (Bale, Vertonghen).  Adebayor, in particular, seems a bit out of place at times and one might wonder if his trip to ACON may allow AVB to find a better fit up front.  Statistically, Spurs rely on shots outside the box more than most elite attacks, primarily a result of Bale’s prolific ability from 18+ yards out.  With that said, their shots on target are as expected and they neatly fit into the model for goals scored.

Defensively, Spurs are excellent at preventing shots but struggled with clear cut opportunities allowed.  Should they improve down the stretch they will be one of the very best defensive units in the league, behind City.

Fun Fact: Gareth Bale has the 2nd highest rate of shots on target per minute among regular players in the league behind only Romelu Lukaku.

Prediction: Spurs continue to dominate weaker competition and sure up their backline.  The attack comes and goes as quality up front is missing somewhat.  Big games against Everton and Arsenal determine which European competition Tottenham play for next season.


Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the season so far.  Everton were expected to be solid, but probably not legitimately compete for the top five.  They are and I expect they will continue to do so presuming fitness.

Offensively, Everton have dominated statistically.  Fellaini and Jelavic represent physically dominant players and they’ve been able to get into the box against even the best opposition.  However, neither have exactly proven to be a clinical striker, Jelavic surprisingly but Fellaini not so, and the resulting conversion rates have been a major drag on goals scored.

Defensively, Everton are a bit underrated, mainly due to the lack of clean sheets.  Personally I feel that this is primarily the result of a scheduling quirk which saw them face better attacking opponents at home and lesser opponents on the road.  This is a recipe for a bunch of single goal conceded games, something Everton have done twelve times thus far.
 Fun Fact: Nikica Jelavic has just 2 goals on his last 40 shots, 35 of which came from inside the box.
Prediction:  Everton continue to be statistically elite, but lack the quality that and precision finishing necessary to challenge for a top 4 slot.  Clean sheets come more regularly, but tough away fixtures doom Everton to a dog fight for a Europa slot.


Arsenal are definitely in a battle this season to continue their consecutive qualification for one the coveted Champions League spots. Given the entirety of the first half of the season, one would think qualification is unlikely.  However, Arsenal has been better when Walcott has been fit (both as a winger and a central forward) so I do believe the chance remains.

To do so, Arsenal is going to need improvement on both ends of the pitch.  Offensively, Arsenal generate fewer shots than any other elite side.  While this has improved with Walcott, that improvement needs to continue.  Defensively, Arsenal are still prone to gaffs, as evidenced by their 12 errors leading to goals conceded, the most in the league.  This absolutely must stop or Arsenal may find themselves shut out of Europe altogether.

Fun Fact: The Gunners scored 23 goals in just 4 games (SOT, TOT, NEW, RDG).  They have just 17 goals in the other 17 games.

Prediction: Fitness improves in the second half and the backline improves.  Walcott finds his place, both as a winger and striker.  Arsenal do just enough to edge Everton for 5th.

Tottenham Hotspur: Quietly confident


The attention was largely elsewhere during a madcap Sunday which could quite accurately be described as ‘Super’ due to the drama on show, but Tottenham Hotspur didn’t let that distract them from achieving their goal.

On England’s south coast, Spurs rather quietly slipped into the top four with a 2-1 win over Southampton that might not have done much for the home side’s prospects of avoiding relegation, but certainly served as a huge boost to the ambitions of the visitors at the other end of the Premier League table.

The win was Tottenham’s fifth from the last six league outings, with any doubts over manager Andre Villas-Boas following a winless first three games now firmly placed in the past.

That run of a loss at Newcastle followed by home draws against West Brom and Norwich even saw a few of the more reactionary Spurs fans call for Villas-Boas’s head and the return of good old Harry Redknapp, but the results since mid-September have now surely got any remaining doubters off the Portuguese’s back.

The task now is of course to keep on impressing, and going into a November which includes fixtures against Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool it will also be important to stay calm and not let results go to their heads.

Staying quietly confident might just be the best thing for Villas-Boas and Spurs right now, and so not for him the bullish and always inaccurate cries from Redknapp that his side were ready to challenge for the Premier League title.

The manner that Chelsea took the game away from them in their 4-2 win at White Hart Lane a week and a half ago showcased that Tottenham’s squad isn’t quite on a par with the top sides in the division just yet. Finishing just below them is a different matter altogether though.

In Gareth Bale, Moussa Dembele, Aaron Lennon, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Clint Dempsey, Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor there are the raw attacking materials for a serious tilt at the top four from Tottenham, with qualification for the Champions League surely more than just a pipedream during a campaign in which a good cup run would also strengthen Tottenham’s claims to be considered amongst the big boys.

Reaching the Champions League quarter-finals in 2010/11 perhaps led to some people behind the scenes at Tottenham deciding that the club should run before they could walk, and with Redknapp eventually paying the price for such an increase in expectations then maybe it’d be wise for Spurs fans to just take each game as it comes right now. When you have a talent such as Bale on your hands though, that is easier said than done.

In these times of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo it can be easy to overlook other talents and compare them to that star duo – comparisons which they will always lose out in.

However, Redknapp’s recent claim that Bale is the best British player in the Premier League is probably a correct one in terms of recent form, and if the Welshman can keep on inspiring his side then the sky could well be the limit for Tottenham – so long as that sky falls just below Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City that is.

Like it or not that is where Spurs are right now, but that is a terrific base from which a young manager can build and look to improve as he establishes himself at a club who are slowly beginning to take him to their hearts.

Spurs and Villas-Boas shouldn’t mind that they’re not the centre of attention as long as they keep winning.

Leave it to others to decide when the quiet confidence deserves to be shouted about.


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