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Oct 19, 2012

AVB relaxed ahead of Chelsea reunion

At one point in his occasionally agitated Thursday press conference, Andre Villas-Boas is asked what seems like a routine question. It is also, however, a potentially revelatory one: is he more relaxed at Tottenham Hotspur now than he ever was at Chelsea?

"No. I don't think so. I feel exactly the same," he replied.

For a rather simple response, it is one with multiple possible meanings. Then again, ahead of Saturday's match against the European champions, that's entirely fitting.

Because, for what should be a simple London derby, it's arguably got more dimensions to it than any other Premier League fixture this season.

Many, of course, may say Liverpool-Manchester United or QPR-Chelsea. That, however, is also the point. Because, aside from all the issues these two teams are bringing this weekend anyway, they're also still feeling the fall-out more than most from what happened at Loftus Road on exactly this weekend last year.

Had the infamous incident of October 23, 2011 never happened, it's interesting to try to work out how things would have panned out. To begin with, Fabio Capello may still be in the England job, Villas-Boas may still be in the Chelsea job and, as a result, Harry Redknapp may still be in the Spurs job as well as in the Champions League.

Certainly, Tottenham's current boss sees it as a distinct turning point. Up until that game, Chelsea had won six and drawn once, with their only defeat coming in a narrow 3-2 loss at Old Trafford. After that 1-0 reverse at QPR, though, everything changed utterly.

"When I go back now to this exact date last season, before we played the QPR game at Chelsea in our position... after the QPR match we had a consecutive run of bad results. In the end, football results are about stability and jumping from adversity. At my time at Chelsea, we never got that stability. We were always up and down and when Chelsea were with Robbie [Di Matteo], he worked on the players' motivation and they went on a run," Villas-Boas said.

"[After Loftus Road], then we dropped points against Arsenal. It was those two Premier League fixtures in a row that took the belief from us being champions."

It wasn't all they took. There was also the energy required to deal with so many consequences. A year on, Villas-Boas finds himself asked about his unequivocal backing of John Terry back then. He stands by it.

"I made my stance based on my reading of the situation at the time. But what I did in the past I continue to support," he said.

Ironically, Villas-Boas found himself on the other side of such a situation this week as he had to make a call to Danny Rose, who is on loan at Sunderland, after the racial abuse the England Under-21 defender suffered in Serbia.

In that sense, you could imagine Villas-Boas has a certain amount of sympathy for his replacement and former assistant, Di Matteo, given how he must also face questions from all ends... except a further factor in this fixture is that many around the camp say their relationship wasn't the warmest.

For his part, Villas-Boas matter-of-factly describes it as "good".

He said: "I'm not inside there to tell you what is happening and to tell you how he dealt with the situation when I left. We don't speak about it, but we see each other. We've seen each other two or three times since I've arrived back in London so we have a good relationship."

Of course, that personal duel directly leads to the most intriguing issue surrounding this fixture: the fact Villas-Boas is facing Chelsea for the first time since he was sacked. Because, despite so much controversy swirling around this match, there is the Portuguese standing right in the middle, trying to hold his ground.

The most relevant question, then, is not Villas-Boas's relationship with the past but how he deals with the immediate future. With so much surrounding this game, can a manager already somewhat renowned for his emotions and levels of agitation keep Spurs steadily on course?

It's in that context that the question of whether he is "relaxed" is particularly relevant. Since he left Porto, as he admits himself, things have never exactly been quiet.

And there was another classic example in this press conference. Despite all that is already going on with this game, Villas-Boas willingly added another by reviving the goalkeeper issue so many had thought was finally settled. Despite the fact Hugo Lloris at last started a league game for Spurs, the Portuguese stated he still considered Brad Friedel to be his number one.

Before all that, though, there was another interesting exchange. Initially, Villas-Boas naturally attempted to deflect any questions about his emotions ahead of this game, and stuck to his line that it wasn't about him.

"In the end, there is one thing which has been to a certain extent blown out of proportion in some ways - this is certainly not a personal matter," he said.

"I prefer to involve it much more on the club. Taking it to an individual situation is not fair on me. First, because it means absolutely nothing for the end of the season and because it is not a quest of an individual. It is a quest of a team. Where we want to finish is in the elite of the Premier League, top four, to qualify for the Champions League - sometimes!"

At the least, Villas-Boas is certainly relaxed enough to make a joke about the fact Spurs are playing the team that directly denied them a place in Europe's elite competition this season. But, when it's put to him by one particularly persistent journalist that these are facts and not feelings, the Portuguese does concede some ground.

"I'm going to see people who mean a lot to me, people who are part of my development as a coach," he said. "I certainly feel I have become a better coach because of them. They have helped me a lot in the development of my career."

At the moment, it's hard to deny that. After some understandable teething problems at the start of the season, Tottenham are on a run of four consecutive wins with their most recent victory over Aston Villa providing an intense performance that is arguably the closest Villas-Boas has come to replicating his rousing FC Porto side since he arrived in England.

If there is a cyclone of issues swirling around Villas-Boas at the moment, Chelsea may well come up against a side that can impressive play at gale-force speeds some times. To maintain their unbeaten record, Di Matteo's side are themselves going to have to stay on form.

"We have four wins in a row," Villas-Boas said. "We approach [this game] very, very confidently but the reality is that the opponent approaches it in the same way. Maybe even more so, given the trophies they won.

"Chelsea are on an extremely good run, a difficult team to beat and we are on a good run and hopefully we can join them up there and benefit in some way from the impact of getting closer to them. This is what we want from this game."

Not to mention a final break from recent history.

"I don't think it has any kind of influence on the running of the game," he added. "I am worried much more about the running of the game, rather than whatever happened in the past."

That should, perhaps, be the final word. Given these teams and personalities, though, it's unlikely to be.

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