LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 25: Andre Villas-Boas the Chelsea manager watches from the touchline during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Bolton Wanderers at Stamford Bridge on February 25, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Andre Villas-Boas has been pretty reluctant to talk to the British media recently. It's hard to blame him, since him being incompetent is their story de joueur, but that doesn't mean he's not talking to everyone else. He had a pretty interesting interview in Portuguese the other day, and bits are beginning to come out in England now. They're mostly being taken out of context, of course (we're totally going to buy Hulk you guys), but that doesn't mean that some excerpts aren't fascinating, and there's a gem that's worth your while buried in there...
NB: Three tweets condensed into one.
Again, this is being taken out of context. I'm seeing this translated as 'Mata will play as a number ten from now on', which is nonsensical considering the interview took place last week and Mata played on the left wing against Bolton Wanderers. Instead, what we have here is a frank discussion about the 4-2-3-1 and why it's been difficult for Chelsea to adopt.
There's just so much good stuff here. Chelsea have been weak defensively down the left, with Mata not providing Ashley Cole with any support*, and so to mitigate that - as well as to facilitate some better passing in the centre, Villas-Boas has looked at moving Mata to the middle. However, you then have a problem - your options on the left wing are Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou, neither of whom are really starting quality at this point.
*Which goes some way towards explaining why Cole has looked so poor defensively this season.
You also have a problem with Frank Lampard, who doesn't really fit in a double pivot. I might be more confident in his abilities there than Villas-Boas is, but he gets to see Lampard in training and I don't. The manager has taken plenty of stick for his team selection against Napoli, but if you remember my tactical preview - where I said Mata was needed centrally alongside two more defensive, ball-winning midfielders - he was going for something similar. Poor personnel choices in Ramires and Raul Meireles cost him there, not leaving out Lampard.
All in all, Villas-Boas seems aware of one of the primary reasons to switch to a 4-2-3-1 (although I've yet to hear him talk about the benefits not having a completely incoherent relationship between the midfield and the defence would provide). He's just also well aware there are some sticking points to switching full-time, which is completely reasonable.
Thanks to his work prior to taking the reigns at Chelsea, I've never bought into the idea that the manager is a tactical incompetent*, and this set of quote reinforces my belief that he knows how football works. I still have a few concerns, however - the fact that the Blues didn't pick up a serviceable left winger in the January window means that he's been unable to explain the need for one to his bosses, which is a worrying sign, and the problems he's had with Lampard imply that he's unable to get his ideas across to someone who is by all accounts a highly intelligent player.
*That said, I still have plenty of questions about the merits of a defensive structure that appears to be designed to penalise the centre backs for every single individual mistake they make.
There's been criticism in these parts about what seems, from the outside, to be a stand-offish we'll-do-things-my-way attitude from Villas-Boas. How fair those are, I don't really know. I've never met the man or seen him work, so I can't possibly judge. But what does seem clear from the season so far is that he's having trouble convincing those around him that he knows what he's doing, which for me is resulting in a really half-assed implementation of 'The Project'.