Spurs are struggling right now, failing to win back-to-back games, despite producing impressive results during the early part of the season. In recent games, they have fallen prey to a lack of confidence and belief in their quality. Mourinho’s Spurs have become a defensive team incapable of holding onto leads and are over-reliant on Harry Kane and Son Heung-min to create counter-attacking chances. Against Brighton, without their chief playmaker Harry Kane, Spurs failed to deliver not only as an attacking unit but also as a defensive unit. The defeat against Brighton now means Spurs have won just two of their last nine Premier League games, and one of those wins came against struggling Sheffield United. In the meantime, they have managed only to find ten goals, while conceding eleven.
After the Brighton game, Mourinho said his team is suffering from ‘sadness’ and low ‘self-esteem’, something which was probably a trademark aspect of Jose whilst at Manchester United. Mourinho’s old school tactics however, which are often criticised by his pundits, are undoubtedly a match-winning formula at the end of the day. At the same time, his tactics would only be successful if the players were willing to put 100 per cent into it. Inter’s belief and Manchester United’s cynicism on Mourinho are two contradictory examples of how his tactics are welcomed by both fans and the players. Nevertheless, at Spurs, the problem is much larger than Mourinho, something which neither Daniel Levy nor Mourinho can find an explanation. It is also too early to judge Mourinho’s run at Spurs, considering they are still within touching distance of the top four and remain in three competitions. However, after Sunday’s woeful performance against Brighton, last week’s defeat to Liverpool, the alarm bells are already ringing for the Portuguese.
Jose Mourinho started the season, just as the way he intended. His disciplined, defensive principles were evident through the first half of the season as Spurs managed impressive wins against Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United. However, his unconditional tactics have also left deep scars, game after game, as Spurs opt to play more in their own half than their opponents. This was evident through the first 12 matches of the season, but this was often overshadowed by the good results they managed to achieve. Their inability to pick themselves up, or capitalise on a one-goal lead, is one of the major drawbacks Jose has failed to find an answer to. They have conceded eight goals between the 75-90 minute mark and have dropped 10 points, after having been in the lead, in the last 20 minutes. Especially in the game against Leicester City back in December, when they were willing to sit back against a much-organised attacking side. Under Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs played very dangerous attacking football, which not only was defensively solid but was also more organised than what is there today. In its core, the team still holds the same quality of players, who were pivotal for Poch’s Spurs reign. But under Mourinho, the change in the shape of philosophy has not only left players like Delli Ali and Danny Rose looking like shadows of their past but also the developmental phase that was going on at the Club has been neglected. Unlike his predecessor, Mourinho preference was to bring in experienced players more than developing the team from youth.
“This is not our squad. Reinforcements, you mean players that we would like to buy, to add to the squad. That’s another thing, but this is not my squad (team of youngsters), this is not even half my squad”
he once said during his time at Manchester United, when his makeshift team of academy players suffered a 4-1 loss in friendly.
His relentless taste for playing extra defensive-minded players have left the likes of Delli Ali and Harry Winks in the stands. This lack of dynamism in the team provides few attacking options on the field. However, on the bright side, Mourinho has managed to bring the best out of Harry Kane and Son but failed to do the same with many others. On reality with their transfer activity this summer, Spurs have one of the finest teams in the league but it is not being utilised the way it should be.
Since their 3-3 draw against West Ham in October, Mourinho has further developed a tendency to play with a defensive midfield unit, which has often led to ask attacking players to build from the back. The ideal style Mourinho introduced at Inter and later perfected at Real Madrid has proved to be deadly, but so far, at Spurs, it has only partially succeeded. This system worked perfectly for Spurs against likes of Manchester City but failed against Liverpool, proved quite a success against Southampton, but failed against Leicester City. Against Liverpool in their first meeting, they were defeated 2-1 after conceeding to a last-minute set-piece goal from Roberto Firmino, despite Spurs creating several chances. Chances missed by Bergwijn is a direct example of how clinical a team should be under Mourinho’s philosophy. The contrasting nature of each team here describes the reason why Spurs failed and succeeded with this kind of play. Now in their recent match against Brighton, Mourinho adapted a negative system, picking three out-and-out centre-backs, which rely heavily on Son and the struggling Gareth Bale. Mourinho has missed his star striker Harry Kane but made things even worse by only introducing a striker in Vinicius later off in the game.
Without Kane on the field, Mourinho could not conjure up another way to move the ball quickly from the back, a problem now Eriksen has left the club. The role of a playmaker was left unanswered even in the transfer window, and was left unsolved by Mourinho as well. Neither Gareth Bale nor Ndombele could fill this role, which leaves Harry Kane to shoulder more responsibility in the middle of the park. Mourinho, does favour this transition, but this game plan is backfiring now. Another major setback for Spurs this season was their failure in getting the best out of Gareth Bale, who seems to have lost all his faith in the game. Bale’s poor form has given the likes of Steven Bergwijn and Lo Celso, the opportunity to provide enough depth to the Spurs front line. However, constant injuries to Lamela and Le Celso means, Spurs would struggle if Son, Kane or Bergwijn were out injured. Not to mention, an injury to Pierre-Emile Højbjerg which would destabilise Mourinho’s defensive pivot in the middle. The lack of quality of options in wider areas, continues to create a headache for Spurs, something that they will need to address in the next transfer window.
Jose’s pragmatism may somehow work out for Spurs, but it is still unclear whether the players are ready to buy into his footballing philosophy any more.