A new era with Vilahamn at the helm: Tottenham WSL Season Preview
Robert Vilahamn is the face of a new era in N17. (Photo by Gualter Fatia/Getty Images)

The 21st of May 2023. Tottenham Hotspur beat Reading 4-1 to secure survival in the Women’s Super League. It was a season like no other for one of England’s biggest teams as – despite a season of progress the year before – they spluttered and faltered from September to May. To say it was underwhelming is an understatement.

Vicky Jepson – the interim replacement for Rehanne Skinner – helped steer the Lilywhites clear of relegation but was quickly escorted out of Hotspur Way over the summer. In came Robert Vilahamn.

A new name – one not associated with football in England – but new philosophies and ideas present a new dawn in N17. As the sun rises over north London, the perception between Arsenal and Tottenham could never be more different.

The Swedish invasion under Vilahamn is here, but whether the Old Norse Lilywhite ships sail or sink is yet to be decided.

  • Vilahamn’s tactical philosophy

Vilahamn's name in English football is unknown - through no fault of his own. His most recent spell at Häcken paints a positive picture for Spurs' future. Arriving in the picturesque city of Gothenburg, Vilahamn directed Häcken towards back-to-back second-place finishes, whilst he left the Swedish outfit in the lead of the title race at the time of his Spurs appointment. 

Swedish football is vastly different to English football, yet his impressive spell in Scandinavia clearly impressed the Tottenham hierarchy. It was a drawn-out process, but just like with Ange Postecoglou's appointment on the other side of the club, Daniel Levy wanted to lead the teams back towards the 'Tottenham Way'.

Audere est facere - more commonly known as 'to dare is to do' - is a phrase synonymous with the club. It had been disconnected within the men's and women's teams, but the appointments of Australian Postecoglou and Swede Vilahamn paint a new era.

Vilhaman's football will take time to adapt to the pressure and demands of the WSL, but the Swede is keen to take control of possession.

“I want to be able to dictate games and have a build-up where we can control the game. Whether we play against teams at the bottom or the top, I want to be a team that controls it. I want to develop the players. We want to be offensive of course, the Tottenham style, we want to attack with control in transitions. We want to score many goals,” Vilahamn suggested when first appointed.

“Also, we want to be a pressing team. We want to have the ball, so we need to go up there and try to win it from the opponent and make sure we do the counter-attacks as well. We want to be an offensive team that the supporters can be proud of.”

At Häcken, Vilahamn liked to set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 with the ball, which commonly moved into a 4-4-2 in possession. Tactics are fluid nowadays, and no team in the top divisions play a rigid formation.

It often entailed the 'number ten' pushing further up - likely to be Drew Spence for Spurs - whilst Ria Percival will adapt to the midfield role Vilahamn requires. The 40-year-old likes one of his midfielders to drift from the centre to out wide, often combining with the overlapping full-backs. The New Zealand international will likely partner Eveliina Summanen - who starred for the Lilywhites at the end of last season.

Beth England's knee injury will see her miss the opening months of the season. A bitter pill for Spurs to swallow, after the former Chelsea striker almost single-handedly kept the club up last season. The newly announced captain will be unable to lead the Lilywhites into action, leaving Bartrip and Olga Ahtinen to take the reigns. 

The centre-back has been a key player for Spurs ever since re-joining from Reading in 2021. Since then, she played every match in the previous two WSL campaigns at the heart of Spurs' defence. 

Providing her team with security - despite conceding 47 goals last season - Bartrip's leadership will be key in England's absence. As a Spurs academy youngster, the saying 'one of our own' couldn't be epitomised by someone more than the 27-year-old. Meanwhile, winning the PFA Community Award showed her work, resilience, and leadership off the pitch is flying high.

Vilahamn expressed his confidence in Bartrip and Ahtinen when the captaincy group was announced.

"Molly and Olga are very similar to Bethany as they are very professional footballers who perform and demand excellence in everything they do, both on and off the field, and at the same time they always treat people with respect. They always want to develop, and with their great leadership qualities, they set an example for the team to follow," he said.

  • Spurs’ dance with attendances

Women's football had lift-off last summer. The Euros in England, followed by spectacular scenes throughout the WSL season, saw attendances skyrocket throughout the country. Arsenal Women sold out the Emirates for their Champions League semi-final, whilst London rivals Chelsea very nearly did the same at Stamford Bridge.

But the same can not be said about Spurs. Last season, the Lilywhites had an average attendance of 4113 - the seventh-highest in the league and third-best in London. On the face of it, that does not seem woeful, but compared to their main London rivals, it is rather bleak. The move to Leyton Orient's Brisbane Road has not helped attendances, with the stadium situated in east London rather than the north.

After the success of the Women's World Cup this summer, Spurs - and every other club in the WSL - will be aiming to improve their attendances this season; Arsenal have already sold over 40,000 tickets for their opening game of the season.

The Gunners have mastered the skill of marketing on social media, with their players regularly featuring in promotional videos about buying tickets. The same can not be said about Spurs, with the club potentially missing out on revenue, but more importantly, growing the fanbase. 

  • Prediction - 9th

The WSL is stronger than ever, with Chelsea, Arsenal, and both Manchester clubs all strengthening their squads. Further down the table, Aston Villa, Everton, and Brighton have continued to invest. It leaves a competitive playing field across the division - something that may frighten Spurs fans.

After a disappointing season last year, Spurs will be aiming to improve, but with England out injured and Vilahamn's philosophy bound to take time to adjust, it may be a challenging season for the Lilywhites.

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The signings of Luana Bühler, Ahtinen, Linyan Zhang, and Martha Thomas have no doubt strengthened the Lilywhites, yet it remains to be seen if this will be enough to push them up the table.

There's confidence in the air that Spurs will not have a repeat of last season, which is why VAVEL is predicting the north London side to finish the WSL season in ninth.