Andre Villas-Boas’ increasingly bizarre coaching methods may have finally reached a tipping point after Chelsea’s mini-revival was stopped in its tracks with a 1-1 draw against Wigan on Saturday.
Villas-Boas’ approach has come under scrutiny and sparked amusement in soccer circles. He insists that his players come over to the sidelines to celebrate with him and his assistants after a goal is scored. He also sequestered his first-choice squad during training, keeping them away from the back-up members.
Such behavior was widely reported in the British press as being a sign that the Portuguese boss was feeling the pressure, but Chelsea responded with a Champions League victory over Valencia that may have saved his job, then a superb performance in which Chelsea handed Manchester City its first English Premier League defeat of the season.
Those results led to a new sense of optimism, but Saturday’s setback against a Wigan side that is one of the weakest in the EPL was a painful blow.
Villas-Boas thought he was set for another win when youngster Daniel Sturridge scored his eighth goal of the season after 59 minutes, but Wigan bounced back and equalized late when Jordi Gomez capitalized on a mistake by goalkeeper Petr Cech.
“We couldn't hold on,” Villas-Boas said. “Maybe we should have tried to go for a second goal, but because of the momentum Wigan had, as soon as we scored the goal we tried to hold on to what we had. This is a different Wigan team now, I think. They have picked up confidence and momentum from recent results and they made it very difficult for us.
“I don't know if Petr Cech was unsighted but I don't want to blame individuals. It was a collective mistake, a joint lack of concentration, but our confidence is not affected. It is a pity to fall back in the league a little bit, but it was a tough game and a fair result.”
Villas-Boas was on the verge of getting fired less than two weeks ago with Chelsea in danger of being eliminated from the Champions League before responding with a resounding victory in its final group stage game.
With qualification for the knockout stage ensured, AVB’s job should now be safe, at least until Champions League hostilities recommence in two months. However, the round of 16 draw was not kind, pitting Chelsea against Napoli, one of the toughest match-ups possible.
Villas-Boas’ comments this weekend were far more restrained than his recent habit of taking a scattergun approach in apportioning blame in different directions. Recent targets have included his own players, referees, and even former Manchester United defender Gary Neville, now working as a television pundit.
With Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham all playing Sunday, Chelsea would see this as an opportunity missed, against an opponent that was expected to cause little trouble.
Given the odd tactics Villas-Boas has employed so far, it will be intriguing to see what he comes up with next. But the sense is growing that no amount of tricks can turn around a generally dispiriting season in West London.
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