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Fickle Premier League sees dark clouds replace sun shining on Villas-Boas

by Christopher Davies

We live in an age of knee-jerk reaction, of instant judgment.

On planet football, life is either black or white, good or bad. Opinions change like traffic lights, one day a manager can be flavor of the month — one bad result and he’ll be gone inside a month.

Tottenham has three points more than at this stage last season, so statistically it is doing better after 12 games than a year ago. There is a strong argument, then, that the side has improved.

Spurs are ninth, but in a log-jam top half of the Premier League, they are only two places off a Champions League place. They are in the quarterfinals of the League Cup where they face West Ham at White Hart Lane. Their progress to the next stage of the Europa League is assured.

On the down side, apart from Arsenal being top, they have scored just nine goals, only the bottom two clubs, Sunderland and Crystal Palace, have managed fewer. Last Sunday, Spurs were walloped 6-0 at Manchester City — despite the defeat, they still have the fourth-best defensive record in the league — and suddenly the knives for Andre Villas-Boas were not just out, but being plunged into the manager’s back.

One newspaper reported AVB was “clinging to his job,” and the odds on the Portuguese being the next manager to lose his job shortened to third favorite after Martin Jol (Fulham) and Chris Hughton (Norwich). Reports about AVB’s possible successor began to emerge, including Jose Enrique, who is coach of La Liga struggler Celta Vigo.

Sack AVB and replace him with a guy whose team is at the wrong end of La Liga and who has never managed in England?

Any sense of proportion has disappeared.

Last summer, Spurs sold Gareth Bale, their leading goalscorer, to Real Madrid for £80 million. His fee helped to subsidize the £107 million arrival of seven new players, none of whom had ever played in English football.

Were these players really expected to make an immediate impact in the Premier League?

Well, yes it seems they were.

Etienne Capoue and Nacer Chadli have started only four games this season because of injury, yet Spurs have won three of those matches. Vladimir Chiriches has started seven games and has been on the winning side five times, the team conceding just one goal.

Christian Eriksen, the Danish midfielder, has an ankle injury that will sideline him until the New Year. Brazilian playmaker Paulinho plus strikers Roberto Soldado and Erik Lamela are still finding their way, not the only overseas players to find integration to a new league a little slower than many demand.

In fact, Tottenham is where those with a sense of realism expected it to be: just behind the pacesetters, handily placed and still in contention for a Champions League place while doing well in the cups.

There has been criticism of AVB’s tactics, notably playing Soldado as a lone striker, while the displays in the defeats by West Ham, Newcastle and especially Manchester City were, the manager admitted, “not up to our standard.”

While AVB fulfils his media duties, he does not have the wit or warmth of Arsene Wenger and given the way the Portuguese was treated at Chelsea, he is reluctant to be too open with football writers, which can affect a manager’s coverage in the press. He may lack a little in the PR game, but for AVB’s future to be “in the balance” after one bad result smacks of a dark agenda somewhere.

A year ago, Chelsea sacked Roberto di Matteo, whose record in the Premier League after 12 matches was exactly the same as Jose Mourinho’s this season. Number of calls for Mourinho to be dismissed: zero.

Alan Pardew’s days at Newcastle were apparently numbered last month. Three consecutive victories have seen the Magpies climb the table and they are, like Spurs, two points off a European place. Pardew is a good manager again now.

A couple of poor results after David Moyes started his Manchester United career, coupled with apparent doubts over Wayne Rooney’s future, saw not just questions being asked about the Scot but answered.

United had made the wrong choice to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson, members of the Immediate Judgment Club chirped.

United travels to White Hart lane on Sunday unbeaten in its last 11 games, having beaten Bayer Leverkusen 5-0 on Wednesday. Those who criticized Moyes are now writing about “those who criticized Moyes” with no sense of irony.

To defeat one of the Champions League’s lesser lights by five goals away is a fine achievement. To do it against the team second in the Bundesliga is remarkable.

United was irresistible, playing the type of attacking football that has become its hallmark over the years. Rooney was once again the standout player, assisting on four goals and displaying a work-rate that almost made television viewers perspire.

Shinji Kagawa was hugely influential playing a central role behind Rooney, the position the Japan international has been craving for. His range of passing and intelligent running were instrumental in United’s near perfect performance, though when Robin van Persie is fit Kagawa will be moved to a wider position.

Such is his talent, not to mention popularity with United fans, Moyes must find a way to maximize all three.

Victory for either club on Sunday could see them move to fourth position and for AVB, at least, the knives could be withdrawn if not put back in their sheath.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.