Win leaves AVB tactical quandary

CHELSEA manager Andre Villas-Boas may have delighted in muting his critics by reaching the last 16 of the Champions League, but Tuesday’s 3-0 win over Valencia raised just as many questions as it answered.

Villas-Boas ditched his previously stubborn adherence to playing a high line, instead telling his back four to sit deeper. He also dropped long-serving midfielder Frank Lampard for the club’s biggest game of the season. Both ploys paid off in spades.

He admitted he had experimented with the changes in Saturday’s trip to Newcastle, which also reaped a 3-0 victory. It was only their second away win with a clean sheet and two of the goals at St James’ Park came after Lampard was retired to the substitutes’ bench.

Put simply, in two vital fixtures, he relaxed his loyalty to fluid attacking football in favour of pragmatism, and quelled the sense of crisis enveloping Stamford Bridge. The temptation to stick with a winning formula must be competing furiously with his attacking impulses.

Villas-Boas does not have the luxury of an easier next game in which to tweak his strategy; the visitors to west London on Monday evening are Manchester City, the runaway Premier League leaders embellished with copious speedy forwards to spring a high line.

He reacted sensitively to inquiries about whether he had betrayed his philosophy following the vanquishing of Valencia, but warned current tactics would not be a reliable indicator of those he adopts in future.

“We knew it was going to very tough to play Valencia, so we decided to close together our lines, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to do that in the future,” he said.

“It was not the best win in terms of what we are trying to achieve, but the best win in terms of team spirit, teamwork. Full credit to the players.

“We’ve played great games and ended up losing. Nobody really saw what we did in those games, whether we played attacking football or not, because everyone just seems to concentrate on the results, not on our philosophy or the way we played.”

Villas-Boas rejected suggestions he abandoned his principles, saying: “It’s a different strategy but the same philosophy in terms of human values.”