Why Andre Villas Boas Will Succeed at Liverpool, Whilst Failing at Chelsea
Beginnings at Porto
In his first season as manager of FC Porto, Andre Villas Boas had statistics of:
 Won the Portuguese Super Cup
 Won the Portuguese League
 Won the Millennium Cup
 Won the Europa League
 Went the entire season with only FOUR losses, including 2 in the preseason, 1 in the League Cup and 1 in the 1st Leg of the Millennium Cup SF
 Undefeated in the league – Pld 30, W: 27, D:3
 Scored 136 in all competitions
STYLE OF PLAY
o Under Andre Villas Boas, FC Porto most frequently utilised a 4-3-3, but it was not ‘symmetrical’
o Andre Villas Boas altered the formation to expose opposition weaknesses and ensure the strengths of the squad were used.
o The back four frequently consisted of:
Pereira – Maicon – Rolando – Sapanaru
o FC Porto played a high-line with a high pressing game, which meant GK Helton played as a sweeper keeper.
o The three in midfield consisted of: Fernando – Moutinho – Belluschi
o Fernando played as the ‘pivot’, breaking up play, but more importantly recycling the ball. Moutinho played as the central playmaker, but also dropped in to cover if Fernando ventured forward. Belluschi’s role will be explained more in reference to Hulk.
o The Forward line frequently consisted of: Varela – Falcao – Hulk
o Varela had the role of utilising his pace as an option in behind high lines, but also offered natural width and had the ability to run at defences.
o Falcao played the ‘No. 9’ role as an outlet ball, holding the ball up but also to finish off moves
o Hulk played as an inverted right winger, tucking in and linking with Falcao. This left space wide right where Belluschi overlapped and, alongside the RB, caused an overload on the right.
o An important note on Varela was in his positioning on the left. Due to the overload on the right, if the opposition countered that by shifting across, he was used as an outlet to expose the open space, meaning a team could not stop the right side, as they then opened up the left, Catch 22
o In attack, the fullbacks would push forward to join in, whilst the CB’s would spread and Fernando tucked in to effectively create a 3-4-3 as shown:
This meant FC Porto were very fluid and able to adapt to different situations in both attack and defence
Andre Villas Boas implemented a fluid attacking 4-3-3 system which could also adjust easily to a 3-4-3. This was met with unprecedented success and ensured he won four trophies in his first and only season at FC Porto.
Problems at Chelsea
After this success, Andre Villas Boas was appointed manager of Chelsea. His intention was to implement a similar philosophy at Chelsea. This idea also included ‘phasing out’ the older generation of players which were seemingly less suited to such a fluid, tactical approach.
o Andre Villas Boas’ signings included Mata, Meireles, Romeu and Lukaku, as well as other squad players.
o Andre Villas Boas also tried but failed to sign three players; Luka Modric (who once failed, tried to sign Moutinho, but again failed) and also Pereira from FC Porto
The player roles were almost identical to his roles at FC Porto:
o High defensive line, fullbacks join in attack
o DM’s role to recycle possession and break up play
o LCM’s role is to play incisive passes and help in attacks, whilst also dropping in if DM goes forward
o RCM drifts right to use space opened up by RW
One key difference was with the LW, who, with Mata linked more in the central play, but still offered natural width and had pace and skill to expose holes.
Bought from Barcelona, he had a key role in the DM position. He has great distribution and is a quick thinker which made him a key candidate for Andre Villas Boas’ system. He was able to keep the ball moving and took pressure off other players by simply doing so.
He was most suited to this RCM role, with the directions to drift into empty spaces, due to his engine and pace. He can worry any defence by coming in from wide midfield positions and is a huge attacking threat (as FC Barcelona found out!!)
A natural left-footer, Andre Villas Boas used him as an inverted right winger to much effect. He scored many important goals from this position, but also was frequent in voicing his opinion of how he wanted to play centrally.
The two fullbacks were also a success under Villas Boas, racking up many assists in the first half of the season.
PROBLEMS WITH THE SYSTEM AT CHELSEA
There is no denying there were problems in his system, otherwise he would still have a job. These are some of the main problems I saw:
o The High Line – simply, John Terry was not suited to a high line, and to the same effect, nor was Petr Cech. John Terry is a ‘body on the line defender’, rather than a quick thinker who can spot an attack brewing and step up. Also, Cech is a brilliant shot stopper, but not an aggressive sweeper keeper. Right here, the problems were seen, conceding too many goals due to defensive, or some would say stylistic errors
o Lampard – under Andre Villas Boas, the three centre midfielders consist of a defensive minded player who recycles the ball, a RCM who bombs forward, and another one who is the key play maker (but importantly, this key play maker does not play like Lampard did/does as the No.10 in a 4-2-3-1). This meant, seemingly, Villas Boas did not trust Lampard to take the only remaining midfield role (with the other two being occupied by Romeu and Ramires) simply because he was too attack minded and not disciplined enough.
o Torres/Drogba dilemma - Torres was the first choice, but due to his awful confidence and form meant Villas Boas had to look elsewhere, namely Drogba. However, it was evident that Drogba didn’t like being second fiddle was upset as a result. Also, Drogba going to the African Cup of Nations meant Torres had to play. So Villas Boas was left with an out of form striker or an unhappy one.
o Player Power – Terry didn’t like being made a fool by playing a high line, Lampard didn’t like not playing regularly and Drogba didn’t like playing second fiddle. Right there Andre Villas had upset the three most important ‘ego’s’ in the Chelsea dressing room. He also lost the dressing room due to his methodical nature, autocratic style of leadership and by ostracising the popular Alex and Anelka.
HOW IT COULD HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT
o Modric > Moutinho > Meireles: Modric was first choice when it came to playing the third, and arguably most important, third midfield place as the playmaker. Once it was evident Tottenham wouldn’t budge on their fee Moutinho was sought after. But again, possibly due to FFP, the fee was seen as too high. This left the inferior Raul Meireles, seemingly third choice in this role, to be purchased. He couldn’t reproduce his form from towards the back end of his first season at Liverpool and struggled.
o Moving too Fast: he tried to move too quickly and in the end upset a lot of people
o Stubbornness: Andre Villas Boas was quoted after the Arsenal 5-3 defeat that they wouldn’t sell their philosophy ‘cheaply’. In other words, he decided to continue with a style that didn’t suit his squad. Maybe he should have been more flexible and alter the philosophy temporarily until he could bring in other players more suited, e.g. Gary Cahill to replace John Terry, who is more suited to a high line, or Modric/Moutinho and Hulk
He isn’t a bad manager but he lost the dressing room, which in turn undermined him and left him vulnerable. It seemed as though the team weren’t buying into the plans and this resulted in his sacking. Whose fault was it we won’t know, but his failure wasn’t solely due to him.
Why He Can Succeed at Liverpool
THE CURRENT SQUAD
Much has been said about how Liverpool’s squad is a ‘blank canvas’. It is a squad in need of a direction and a philosophy. It is also a young squad, with the age groups being able to be broken up into three sections:
o Past Peak – Carragher, Gerrard, Maxi*, Kuyt*, Bellamy, Aurelio*
o Peak – Reina, Agger, Skrtel, Johnson, Downing, Enrique, Adam
o Not Yet Peaked – Lucas, Suarez, Carroll, Henderson, Shelvey, Kelly, Coates, Spearing, Eccleston
(* almost certainly moving on)
Also, the Academy is in full motion, producing talents such as Sterling, Coady, Wisdom, Flanagan, Robinson, Morgan, Adorjan and Suso.
This squad, whilst with less quality than Chelsea, is in contrast to the one Villas Boas inherited. It is predominately a peak/young squad, whilst the Chelsea squad was more past/peak squad.
SUITABILITY TO THE SYSTEM
o The High Line – Liverpool’s back five (including GK) suits a high line to a tee. Reina is a naturally aggressive sweeper keeper, having been brought up in the Barcelona Academy, whilst the CB pairing of Agger – Skrtel suits an aggressive pressing game.
o Lucas – He would be a key player in the system should Andre Villas Boas take over at Liverpool. He is the epitome of a Brazilian ‘volante’, who using the literal term is the ‘steering wheel’ or ‘metronome’ of the team. His style is to keep the ball moving and break up opposition attacks
o Right Wing – For Uruguay, Suarez plays on the right of a front three. Whilst playing either as a lone forward or as part of a front two, he frequently drifts into space to allow him to turn and run at defenders (as seen by the 1st Goal vs. Chelsea recently). In a RW position here, he would occupy the ‘Hulk’ role where he can drop into gaps and pick up the ball, linking with the central striker.
o Gerrard’s New Role – Where has Gerrard has the most impact as a Liverpool player? Under Gerard Houllier, Gerrard frequently played in a two man midfield with Didi Hamann. Once Rafael Benitez took over, initially Gerrard was deployed in a wide right role and then later in a free role behind Fernando Torres. There is no denying Gerrard is best suited in positions where he can utilise his attacking prowess, and also he is Liverpool’s best crosser of the ball. For this reason, Gerrard could be suited to the RCM role used under Andre Villas Boas. Jordan Henderson would also be suited to this role as he has tremendous stamina, but would need to work on his confidence in the final third.
o Potential for the Future – even though they may not be immediately ready to slot in, players like Suso, Adorjan and Sterling would be suited to this formation. For the Reserves/Next Gen Series, Suso has often been deployed as an inverted right winger, as his goal against Wolves shows he is very effective at cutting in, although he plays nothing like Hulk or Suarez, I would say he is more similar to Guti (though hopefully with a better attitude). Adorjan would be a suitable player to play as a midfield playmaker, but he may have to mature more. Finally, Sterling has the pace to attack any space left either in behind defences or in between the RB and the CB, allowing him to either shoot or link up play with the striker (as he is a natural right footer).
POSSIBLE NEED FOR IMPROVEMENT
Left Wing – Moving into next season, Liverpool’s realistic options on the left wing are Craig Bellamy and Stewart Downing (assuming the club doesn’t cut their losses). There is also the potential for Raheem Sterling to play a few Europa Games and other cup competitions. This position would almost certainly need strengthening due to Bellamy’s injury problems/age and Downing’s inability to seemingly score or assist, essential for a player in a front three. An example of a player who could be bought would be Iker Muniain/Lucas Moura or maybe a more realistic option in Junior Hoilett
Centre Midfield – A couple of additions would be needed to strengthen the midfield area. Firstly, an alternative to Lucas would be needed, as Liverpool’s form crashed once he became injured. This new midfielder could be either an alternative to Lucas if he were to be injured or suspended (or heaven forbid never return to his pre-injury form) or he could also be the midfield playmaker. A dream option would be Javi Martinez/Joao Moutinho who are world class but also flexible, whilst a more realistic option would be Borja Valero who plays for the just relegated Villarreal (even though he did already struggle in English football) or Seydou Keita who has been linked with a move to Liverpool.
Also, a higher quality playmaker would be required. Charlie Adam’s form was awful after the injury to Lucas highlighted his flaws, whilst Jordan Henderson and Jonjo Shelvey may be too inexperienced to play this role all season. Luckily, Liverpool has a player who plays this position already on their books, Alberto Aquilani, whether or not they will use him or flog him off cheaply is another question.
Striker – Andy Carroll has found some form towards the back end of the season, however if he was to become injured the only option would be for Luis Suarez to move centrally. More depth is needed here, where options such as Klaas Jan Huntelaar (on fire for Schalke but possibly undervalued due to age and spells at AC Milan and Real Madrid), Nilmar/Rossi (from Villarreal, though Rossi has a long-term injury), Dimitar Berbatov (leaving Manchester United) or Bojan Krkic could all prove to be ‘moneyball’ style signings.
Left Back – back up to Jose Enrique may be needed. Fabio Aurelio will be leaving when his contract expires and Jack Robinson has had his injury problems this year (whilst still being very inexperienced). Two possible stop-gaps would be Glen Johnson and Daniel Agger, but an experienced back up may be bought.
Andre Villas Boas would seemingly fit right in to the squad and style of Liverpool. With all Academy/Reserve teams playing a 4-2-3-1 or similar variation, it would be easy to continue a progression from the Academy to the first team. Also, Liverpool’s potential new structure with the Director of Football’s role being broken up into two or three sub-roles, it would be near impossible for veteran players to undermine his job and his future plans.
Finally, Andre Villas Boas has previously been looked at by Fenway Sports Group who looked at him just before Kenny Dalglish took over as caretaker manager 18 months ago and his youth and flair fit into the image which Fenway Sports Group look to.