Ahead of Manchester United's game against Tottenham Hotspur this weekend, we talked to SB Nation's Spurs blog, Cartilage Free Captain. Uncle Menno answers questions on all things United and Spurs, from Andre Villas-Boas, Gareth Bale and David Moyes to Rio Ferdinand, Arsenal and Liverpool.
The interview with us over on their site can be read here.
Callum Hamilton: André Villas-Boas, then. Did brilliantly to win a double by having a team ten times better than anyone else, and did pretty well in Europe. Almost as good as Neil Lennon. But now it's gone south - are you expecting or hoping he'll be binned?
Uncle Menno: This is a tough one for me to answer, because the answer at the moment is "neither." The AVB Experiment, for that's really what it is, has barely begun. There's no question he's a very talented manager. There's no question that he screwed up in a number of ways at Chelsea. And there's no question that he's under enormous pressure to succeed at Spurs. But as frustrating as some of his decisions have been over the last 18 months, we have to remember just how young AVB really is, and that he's still learning on the job.
We've all read David Hytner's article in the Guardian by now and whether or not you really believe that AVB is on the verge of being sacked, there's probably a bit of truth buried in there. I'm sure that the Spurs board isn't happy with a 6-0 shellacking by City, or by the 3-0 loss to West Ham, or by the anemic offense. But if you believe that the board would want to hire a "damaged goods" manager like Villas-Boas after the Chelsea debacle AND sell their best player for £100m, reinvesting the money into a new squad, then you have to think that they would likewise give their young manager and the new team adequate time to learn, grow, and improve. There isn't anything that AVB is doing now that is fireable that the board didn't already know in June, and he's coming off a season where he led Spurs to their highest ever point total. The only real reason to sack him now is if he's alienating his players, and there really isn't any indication that he's doing that. Firing him now makes zero sense if the board is taking the long view of squad development, as they appear to have done by hiring AVB in the first place. This is a bad patch, but I don't believe it'll last. Which is why I don't think AVB will be fired unless Spurs finish in the bottom half of the table, and probably not until summer. After all, Alan Pardew survived last season, right?
CH: Why are you still persisting with the "sit there and do nothing and just give the ball to Gareth" tactic? Has Villas-Boas not been told that he's gone to Madrid?
UM: Haven't you heard? We have the "new Bale" in our side, and his name is Andros Townsend! He just needs to work on his, uh, accuracy.
It is indeed frustrating that we seem to not be able to figure out how to put the ball into the box lately. It's easy to point the finger at Soldado, but I think the problem is in the midfield -- we have a dire lack of creativity, especially with Christian Eriksen injured, and our midifielders are lacking the vision necessary to put our attacking players in positions where they can do something with the ball. It's not helping that teams (including City!) are putting men behind the ball and parking the bus, though it's undeniable that the tactic is working. But certainly, we're letting Andros take WAY too many ill-advised outside shots -- I believe we still lead the league in Shots On Target Outside the Box (SoBoT), and that just won't do. We need more movement, more vision from our central midfielders, and, frankly, a great deal less Paulinho, who seemingly can't decide whether he should attack or defend and consequently does neither. That leaves (brave, direct) Andros Townsend to try and make something out of nothing, when he lately has done the exact opposite.
It's beyond infuriating.
CH: Do you secretly pine for the return of Harry Redknapp? Has the increased defensive solidity been worth it, or do you prefer the days when you were the most exciting team in the country?
UM: Redknapp? LOL, no. Harry's "FRAAB" offense (short for "f*#^in run around a bit," advice Harry once gave to Roman Pavlyuchenko) was a lot of fun to watch, but the biggest knock on it was that it lacked tactical... well, anything. It was exciting, but it also often failed -- witness our late season swan-dive in 2011, the season Harry was sacked. We at CFC longed and pined for tactical nuance and structure, and we got it in spades with AVB. Maybe too much of it, in fact. We played some pretty football under Villas-Boas last season, but I can hear you already arguing that it was because we also had Gareth Bale. Well, truth. But you could also say that the structure and tactical efficacy put in place by AVB was what was able to fully unlock Bale's potential.
Redknapp also had an annoying tendency to not just give interviews out of car windows, but also sign "his guys." Guys like Vedran Corluka, Scott Parker, Niko Kranjcar (now with Harry at QPR) and yes, even Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch. He tried to sign Joe Cole, ferchrissake, and actually did sign Louis Saha! I highly doubt we'd have some of the outstanding players (and they are, no matter how we're playing now) we have now if Harry were still around, nor do I think we'd be anywhere near fourth place. Harry took us as far as he could go and he rode Bale's ability as much as anyone.
CH: What players of ours are you most worried about at the weekend?
UM: Well, you have those chaps Rooney and Van Persie who I hear are pretty good. Also, if Phil Jones can take control of the center of midfield then Spurs could have another long day. I'm also really curious as to how much Patrice Evra can terrorize Kyle Walker. When Walker's on his game he's a solid defender against overlapping runs, but he can get caught out, too, and that can get very exposed in Spurs' high line. Also, though Moyes clearly doesn't favor him, I have an irrational fear of Shinji Kagawa.
CH: What players of ours are you desperately hoping will be playing a full 90 minutes at the weekend?
UM: Please, please, please start Rio Ferdinand. I'd be grateful if you decided to give Tom Cleverly and Antonio Valencia a run-out this weekend. Pretty please? Be a pal.
CH: Who's going to beat you to fourth?
UM: Oh, God. It has to be Liverpool, doesn't it? I feel dirty just typing it. United of course are in with a shout despite the poor start, but I just don't think Southampton or Everton will have the wherewithal or staying power to ultimately make that final leap. Liverpool has Suarez, Sturridge, creativity in Coutinho, and most troubling, belief, something that's been in short supply lately at White Hart Lane. Now excuse me while I go shower.
CH: Who's going to win the league?
UM: I know Arsenal are playing well right now but if I were a betting man I'd still put my money down on Manchester City. That squad... yeesh. If they can figure out how to win on the road I can see them blitzing a trail through the EPL. Plus you know they're not averse to spending in January to fix whatever perceived holes they have (*cough* goalkeeper *cough*) in their side. I doubt they'll separate themselves that much from the other contenders -- I think it could be a close race this year -- but ultimately the cream rises to the top and there's a hell of a lot of cream on that side.
CH: I grew up in an area where everybody supported one of Celtic or Rangers and then an English team as well, and it was always the posh kids - the worst people in the world - who supported Arsenal. You know, Thierry Henry, va-va-voom, that nonsense. Now I live in France, where Arsenal are everybody's favourite English club, thus confirming that we are, inevitably, doomed to repeat the mistakes of our childhood over and over for all eternity. To end this admittedly rather hostile interview on a lighter and more fraternal note, what's the number one reason you hate Arsenal?
UM: Well, they are our rivals and North London neighbors. Familiarity breeds contempt, yadda yadda yadda. But if I had to pick one reason, just one reason as to why I hate Arsenal, it'd have to be St. Totteringham's Day, the day that Arsenal fans celebrate finishing ahead of Spurs in the table. Sure, it's juvenile and sophomoric. But what I can't stand is that, no matter how good our team is, how down that lot is, or whether we beat them during the season, St. Totteringham's Day infuriatingly still comes EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR. Put it this way: I was recently asked by a friend to choose between two hypothetical scenarios: a) Spurs are guaranteed Champions League football but Arsenal wins the league, or b) Spurs finish ahead of Arsenal but finishes eighth in the table. And I had to think long and hard about it. Stupid? Probably. But that's the nature of this rivalry. I have a lot of friends who are Gooners, and I'm very friendly with a few writers over at The Short Fuse, good guys. But man, I want to beat that club. Every time.