Tottenham Hotspur produced some of their very best football to take a healthy 3-0 lead into the second leg of their last-16 Europa League tie with Inter Milan.
Gareth Bale and Gylfi Sigurdsson gave Spurs a deserved first-half advantage as they dominated their Italian opponents in every department.
A Jan Vertonghen header after the break secured an impressive win for the home side and Brad Friedel produced a good save late on to ensure Milan failed to net a crucial away goal.
Spurs came out with real purpose and went ahead when who else but Gareth Bale headed in on six minutes to bag his third goal of the competition and his 21st of the season.
Gylfi Sigurdsson did well to wriggle past two Milan defenders on the left and whip in a pinpoint cross to the Welshman who glanced the ball inside the right post from the six-yard line.
It was a dream start for Tottenham and Defoe almost put them 2-0 soon after but his shot from the edge of the box was well saved.
Bale showed the brilliance that has earned him international attention in the opening stages but there was also evidence of another side to his game when he was shown yellow for diving in the 16th minute.
Replays suggested the referee was right to produce the card, despite the winger’s protestations.
The booking means misses the return leg in Milan but with the lead Spurs take to the San Siro, Villas-Boas might be grateful to get the suspension out of the way.
Milan came back at Spurs after the goal and a shot flashed just over from the edge of the box to give Spurs a reminder of the class of their opposition.
But the home side furthered their lead on 18 minutes when Sigurdsson followed up Defoe’s shot on the turn that was blocked by goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.
Tottenham moved the ball around beautifully throughout the first half and Sigurdsson in particular impressed with his work rate and trickery.
Spurs’ good work was almost undone as half time approached when Ricardo Alvarez found himself through on goal but Tottenham were let off the hook as he dragged his shot wide.
Milan made a change at the break but it went unnoticed as the home side went 3-0 up on 52 minutes when Jan Vertonghen towered above the Italian back line and headed Bale’s corner in from six yards.
Spurs were in destructive mood and Bale produced a superb solo run but shot into the side netting before Defoe’s fierce hit was deflected just wide through the legs of the keeper.
Sigurdsson, who played an important role in Tottenham’s 2-1 victory in the north London derby on Sunday, produced another superb display and received a standing ovation from the home side when he was replaced by Holtby on 71 miuntes.
The Icelandic forward’s run of good form will be a welcome sign for his manager and could keep the indifferent Clint Dempsey out of the team when he returns from injury.
Villas-Boas’ side now face Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday before looking to finish their Italian Job at the San Siro on Thursday.
Tottenham: Friedel, Walker, Gallas, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekotto, Parker, Dembele (Livermore, 64), Lennon (Naughton, 81), Sigurdsson (Holtby, 71), Bale, Defoe. Subs: Lloris, Dawson, Caulker, Carroll.
Inter Milan: Handanovic, Zanetti, Ranocchia, Chivu, Juan (Palacio, 45), Gargano, Cambiasso, Alvarez (Jonathan, 66), Kovacic (Guarin, 55), Pereira, Cassano. Subs: Belec, Benassi, Pasa, Mbaye.
Referee: Antonio Miguel Mateu Lahoz (Spain).
Bookings: Bale, 15, Zanetti, 72.