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TOTTENHAM boss Andre Villas-Boas has stuck the knife into Chelsea ahead of tomorrow’s crunch battle for a top-four spot.
Villas-Boas said his Spurs squad is loyal, united and open to new ideas — unlike the bickering, rebellious Blues he was in charge of last season.
He returns to Stamford Bridge for the first time since he was sacked by Roman Abramovich just nine months into his ambitious three-year “project”.
And the Portuguese boss, 35, said: “This season has been good for me. I’ve found it extremely good here.
“It was good to be back in England after last year. I’ve been very well received by everybody, particularly this group of players, whose drive and ambition towards achieving results has been tremendous.
“It becomes easier when the players are willing to commit to your ideas, they need to be able to take something from learning new things and also enjoy learning new things that they can use in their game.
“All the players have received me well and, when you receive that sort of openness, you can create a good environment.”
Villas-Boas admitted he made mistakes at Stamford Bridge and his plans to start replacing the likes of Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry with younger, more dynamic stars, played a part in his downfall.
Rumours about persistent unrest among the Chelsea squad dogged AVB throughout his tenure but he is well liked by his new players at Spurs. He added: “The experiences of managing Chelsea and Spurs are different and I learned a great lesson from last year.
“There are things I do dramatically different and things that I do exactly the same because you still have to stay true to your principles.
“The Chelsea experience allowed me to see things in a different way and helped me address the mistakes I made — that always allows you to develop on a personal and a professional level.”
The closeness between Villas-Boas and Gareth Bale was summed up when the PFA and FWA Player of the Year shared a warm embrace with his gaffer after hitting a dramatic winner in the 3-2 victory at West Ham in February.
AVB has also maintained a good relationship with his squad players thanks to his occasional rotation — something his predecessor Harry Redknapp was accused of failing to do last season.
In March, Tottenham held a seven-point gap over Arsenal but a poor run of form in the final stretch means Villas-Boas’ men may have to win their final three games against Chelsea, Stoke and Sunderland to qualify for the Champions League.
Spurs needed an 86th-minute Bale strike to secure three points against lowly Southampton on Saturday — and Villas-Boas admits there is still room for improvement in his squad.
He said: “There are always things to refine. It can be difficult sometimes because the nature of the Premier League means it is driven by passion and emotion.
“So, sometimes it can be difficult to set out your philosophy but, like every other team, we have had great games and bad games, and games where we should have expressed ourselves better.
“In the end, however, we have always been recognised as a team that has always been very driven, that wants to score and that is the Tottenham way.”
Villas-Boas is expected to confirm tomorrow whether Scott Parker, Mousa Dembele and Aaron Lennon will be fit for the game at Stamford Bridge.
Parker missed the Southampton game after injuring his ankle in training while Lennon and Dembele both hobbled off with muscle problems.
But the key man will undoubtedly be Bale — and Chelsea’s Juan Mata has warned his team-mates they need to keep the Welshman under wraps.
Mata — one of the nominees beaten by Bale to the PFA award — said: “Obviously, it’s a vital game for both teams and we’ll have to watch one of the best players in the world… Gareth Bale.
“He is in amazing shape and proves to be a decisive player for Spurs almost every week. I congratulate him for all his recent awards.
“We now play against Tottenham on Wednesday, which is going to be a final again.”
Mata’s deflected late winner against champions Manchester United on Sunday has made Chelsea hot favourites to take one of the remaining top-four places.
They can secure that tomorrow with a victory.
Mata said: “It’s going to be tough, but I think we can make it and seal our place in next season’s Champions League.”