Tottenham’s Double 60 years on: conquering ‘soccer’s Everest’

By Rob Bagchi The Telegraph

The road to Tottenham’s 1961 Double, the diamond anniversary of which supporters commemorate today, May 6, began in the Soviet Union. It had its roots in other places, too: Bill Nicholson’s native Scarborough, where the manager inhaled a terse style of Yorkshire stoicism with his mother’s milk; in Musselburgh, birthplace of Dave Mackayand John White, Nicholson’s two most audacious transfer coups, and on the streets of Cheshunt near Tottenham’s training ground where the players undertook ‘Bill’s Road Run’, essentially a brisk five-mile walk followed by a one-mile dash devised by their manager as their regular conditioning routine. 

But it was in Moscow, during a post-season tour in 1959, where individuals forged a bond that would turn them into a team, transforming them from a side that finished 18th in 1958-59, the season Nicholson took over, to one that would miss out on the title by only two points in 1960.

They went to the circus, too many times for even the most diplomatic members of the squad, saw Rudolph Nureyev dance at the Bolshoi, visited the Kremlin, queued to see the embalmed bodies of Lenin and Stalin in the Red Square mausoleum, and played three friendlies in front of packed stadiums in the capital, Kiev and Leningrad. “It was neither an education nor an adventure,” Mackay wrote. “[But] I shall always believe we laid the foundation of the team spirit and genuine friendship which has since played a notable part in the success of Tottenham Hotspur.” 

Because the League and Cup Double has been won nine times in the past 60 years, it has been forgotten that for most of the last century it was often called “the impossible Double”. Aston Villa were the second team to have achieved it in 1896-97, finishing top after a 30-match First Division campaign and winning the FA Cup, which had only four ‘proper’ rounds before the final. 

Yet teams were edging closer to the impossible towards the end of the Fifties. The Busby Babes won the title in 1957 and were only denied the FA Cup in the final, coincidentally by Villa, in large part by virtue of Peter McParland bulldozing the United goalkeeper Ray Wood after six minutes and shattering his cheekbone. In an era before substitutes, let alone substitute goalkeepers, 10-man Manchester United, with centre-half Jackie Blanchflower in goal, were defeated 2-1.

In 1960 Wolves had led the league on Saturday night after completing 42 games only to be pipped by Burnley on the Monday, winning their game in hand to take the title by a point. Wolves had the consolation of winning the Cup five days later but their manager, Stan Cullis, refused to congratulate Burnley for ruining his dream. “I am disappointed and do not wish to make any comment,” he said.

Those near misses persuaded Jackie Blanchflower’s elder bother, Danny, the captain of Tottenham, that far from being inconceivable, the Double was possible and that Spurs were just the team to prove it. Danny was 34 in the summer of 1960 and remains one of the most influential British players in the long history of our national game. The right-half was elegant, erudite, radical, waspish, astute and the author of pithiest of homilies, one of which, “the game is about glory”, has become part of his club’s branding. 

Tottenham Hotspur Double Winning Season. FA Cup Semi Final v Burnley. Danny Blanchflower leads the team out followed by goalkeeper Bill Brown.
Danny Blanchflower leads Tottenham out for the FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park CREDIT: Daily Herald/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

Blanchflower came to believe it could be done on his return from the USSR, saying there should be no bashfulness about it. The Double had to be an explicit goal to which the whole club must subscribe. “It couldn’t be done with a weak heart and the team which might do it would have to really believe it could do it,” he said. First, the “impossible” prefix had to be banished. Nicholson, usually so hard-boiled it was said he laboured under the belief that “smiling takes up precious time”, surprised his captain by agreeing: “I think it can be done too.”

The captain was a season premature with his announcement when, after beating Newport County in the third round of the FA Cup in January 1960 with Spurs at the top of the league, he told the press that the Double was on. They were still in first place when they demolished Crew Alexandra 13-2 in a fourth-round replay but the balance of the team, particularly at inside-right, and the fact that White was still serving his final year of National Service in Berwick-upon-Tweed, making a couple of games unreachable after a full day’s duty, undermined their progress. Blackburn Rovers beat them in the fifth round and mid-April home defeats by Manchester City and Chelsea, who would finish 16th and 18th respectively, ruined their title bid. Had they won either of those games, they would have won the league championship on goal average instead of missing out by two points. 

Fred Bearman, the Tottenham chairman, had joined the board in 1909 and must have heard it all during his 51 years’ service. But instead of taking an unsentimental tone when his romantic captain told him on the eve of the 1960-61 season, “We’ll win the Double for you”, he replied: “All right, my boy. I believe you will.” 

“We started – as Robb Wilton used to say – like a house on fire,” wrote Blanchflower in his autobiography, quoting the late, droll star of music hall, radio and film. It was like a palace on fire, in truth, as they won their first 11 games, a record that still stands, putting six past Aston Villa, four past Manchester United at the Lane and hammering Wolves, champions in 1958, 1959 and runners-up in 1960, 4-0 at Molineux.

With the barnstorming, buccaneering and deceptively skilful Bobby Smith at centre-forward, the far more mobile and elusive White replacing Tommy Harmer at inside-right, and the prolific, tireless grafter Les Allen at inside-left, plus the dynamic Terry Dyson, also a son of Scarborough, on the left wing, the blisteringly quick and mesmerisingly skilful Cliff Jones on the right, Spurs simply overwhelmed opponents. In 42 games they were scoreless in just two, scored more than one goal in 32 matches and ended the season with 115, a post-war top-flight record.

For all the verve of their forward line the half-backs were the chief ‘glory’ of Glory, Glory Tottenham Hotspur. With the creative prompting of the fulcrum Blanchflower at right-half, Maurice Norman in the centre, with his heading prowess at both ends, his uncanny gift for interceptions and forays up front when all four limbs would seem to work independently of one another, like an octopus on speed, and the imperious Mackay, one of the ten greatest British footballers, in the No6 shirt, Spurs were irrepressible. Mackay’s talent is too often demeaned by overplaying the fierceness of his competitive zeal and physical aggression. He was a fine passer, long and short, had a thumping left-foot shot, which hammered in a 35-yard screamer at Goodison in December, and a mastery of the ball the equal of any fancy Dan. 

Dave Mackay
The incomparable Dave Mackay CREDIT: PA Photos/PA Wire

Frank McLintock, who would become the century’s second Double-winning captain with Arsenal in 1971, recalled how Mackay, Scotland’s injured captain, used the sureness of his touch and his indomitable, gallus spirit before a match against Spain at the Bernabéu in 1963 when Francisco Gento, Alfredo Di Stefano and Luis Del Sol tried to intimidate the Scots in the warm-up with their skill and swagger. “We all knew Dave Mackay’s party-piece,” said McLintock “and Jim Baxter decided now was the right time to unveil it. Jim called over and shouted, ‘Hey Marquis, see if you can catch this!’” 

With that he tossed a coin 20ft in the air and Mackay “thrust out his right leg, bent at the knee, and caught the coin on his toe. He stood there for a second then flipped it back up in the air, caught it on his forehead, knocked it back up and caught it in his left eye socket then rolled it down his shoulder into his open blazer pocket and waltzed off back to the dressing room to thunderous applause.” Scotland won the match 6-2, a victory most of the players put down to Mackay’s capability to fight Spain’s psychological warfare in kind.  

Spurs lost only once before Christmas, defeated at Hillsborough by Sheffield Wednesday who would run them closest in the title race. But it was the way they responded to a couple of draws and back-to-back defeats in March, which whittled their 10-point lead down to three, that proved their mettle. They hammered Chelsea 4-2, Preston North End 5-0 and edged Chelsea (again) 3-2 on Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Easter Monday. Three crucial wins in four days. Given that Tony Marchi deputised for the injured Mackay in the first two of those victories, it also proved that they were a fine enough side to cope with the loss of their brightest talent.

The Easter resurrection followed by a 3-2 victory over Birmingham City meant that beating Sheffield Wednesday on April 17 at White Hart Lane would clinch the title with three games to spare. Sixty-two thousand fans packed into the ground to watch a fiery, exacting match in which Tottenham fought back from 1-0 down to win 2-1, Smith and Allen scoring in two late first-half minutes before Blanchflower punctured the intensity by shrewdly slowing the tempo after the break. Ten years after their first title in 1951, when Nicholson and his assistant Eddie Baily were in the side, Spurs were champions for the second, and to date final, time. 

Bobby Smith, Terry Dyson, Cliff Jones, John White, Bill Brown, Maurice Norman, Ron Henry, Front row, l-r, Dave Mackay, Bill Nicholson (Manager) Danny Blanchflower, Peter Baker (hidden), Les Allen 
‘Bill Nick’ and his players toast the league title in the White Hart Lane dressing room after beating Sheffield Wednesday CREDIT: Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images

“Five thousand crazy fans, drunk with success, brushed police aside and rushed to join the gigantic chorus in front of the directors’ box calling for Danny, Danny, until I felt my ears would split,” wrote Peter Lorenzo in the Daily Herald.  For once, a tearful Blanchflower was almost lost for words, but rallied to say something that was drowned out by the roars. Part one of their quest had been achieved and that was creditable enough. But scores of teams had won one of the two trophies in the preceding 64 years. Part two would come at Wembley 19 days later in the FA Cup final against McLintock and Leicester City.  

Bobby Smith, Terry Dyson, Cliff Jones, John White, Bill Brown, Maurice Norman, Ron Henry, Front row, l-r, Dave Mackay, Bill Nicholson (Manager) Danny Blanchflower, Peter Baker (hidden), Les Allen 
‘Bill Nick’ and his players toast the league title in the White Hart Lane dressing room after beating Sheffield Wednesday CREDIT: Bob Thomas Sports Photography via Getty Images

Tottenham’s toughest encounter on the road to Wembley came at Roker Park in the sixth-round tie against Sunderland who had at last found some form in the Second Division after a precipitous slump since relegation in 1958. “The great Roker crowd, starved of glory for so long, could not contain itself,” wrote Blanchflower, a multi-talented man with a notable blind spot in theology, going by his description of the Roker reaction to the home side’s goal in the 1-1 draw: “They shot over the fence on to the field, hundreds of them, like mad Hindus waving their arms to the glory of Allah for the equaliser.” It was but a minor inconvenience, they beat them 5-0 in the replay back at the Lane in front of 65,000 and defeated the champions, Burnley, in the semi-final 3-0 at Villa Park. 

The night before the final against Leicester City, the only side to beat them at home while the title race was still alive, Nicholson took the players into the West End to see The Guns of Navarone. Smith, frightened of his manager finding out how severe his knee injury was, crept out of the Hendon Hall Hotel the following morning at the crack of dawn to have two painkilling injections in his knee administered by his GP. 

Tottenham Double
Blanchflower lifts the FA Cup as Tottenham’s player celebrate winning the ‘Impossible’ Double in May 1961CREDIT:  Barnard/Fox Photos/Getty Images

The greatest occasion in the English football calendar, the FA Cup final, had been rendered a turkey in recent years by injuries and the prohibition on substitutes. Forest’s Roy Dwight broke his leg in 1959, Blackburn’s Dave Whelan fractured his the year after and both the 1952 finals – when four Arsenal players were hurt and limped on as passengers – and the 1953 classic, in which Bolton’s Eric Bell hobbled gamely out on the flank and even scored a goal, were distorted. The same was true of 1961 when Les Allen caught Leicester’s Lenny Chalmers with his studs and the right-back retreated on one leg to the wing for 70 minutes. 

It turned the match into a dull, attritional affair, Leicester understandably cautious, Tottenham lacking the usual fluency. It was settled by Smith, who scored the first and set up the second for Dyson in the 2-0 victory. When Blanchflower went up for the Cup there was a feeling of relief as much as elation. Nicholson, of whom one newspaper wrote “he shaves in ice water”, barely cracked a smile. “If anything, I felt a slight sense of dissatisfaction,” he wrote in his autobiography. “I had wanted us to play well and show how good we were, but the match had not been particularly entertaining.”

It was left to the mercifully more ebullient Cliff Jones to put it in proper perspective: “The Double – the Everest, the four-minute mile of soccer – had been done. And I was a member of the team that achieved it.” And as such, to Tottenham fans, his name will be immortal. The following afternoon the team gathered at Edmonton Town Hall for the open top bus parade down Tottenham High Road. The players had been doubtful, asserting that no one would turn up on a Sunday to see them. But the streets were packed and, as they passed the Royal Dancehall, the band was stationed on the balcony and serenaded them with the players’ anthem, Macnamara’s Band

Tottenham Hotspur football club celebrate from the roof of an open top bus on their way to Tottenham Town Hall for a reception given by the Mayor, after winning the League title and the FA Cup 'double'
Much to the players’ shock (and delight) Tottenham High Road was rammed the day after the Cup finalCREDIT: Fox Photos/Getty Images

Brown, Baker, Henry, Blanchflower, Norman, Mackay, Jones, White, Smith, Allen and Dyson will always trip off the tongue of football supporters of an advanced age. Nicholson and Baily, too, and some will recall the contributions of those who also served: Marchi, Terry Medwin, Frank Saul, John Hollowbread, John Smith and Ken Barton. That’s what a ‘legacy’ is, not a dismissive slur on the dedication of generations of supporters from the places these clubs and players represent. Those who sing “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the Cups at White Hart Lane” will not forget the men who brought them there. 

Danned if we do, Danned if we don’t

A long, long time ago… I can still remember…. how Tottenham used to make me smile…

That’s been a fun couple of weeks. I think the last bloeug I did was in preparation for the Manchester United game. We whimpered out of that one, had Harry Kane to thank for not being well beaten against Everton, had our first second-half comeback in who knows how long against Hassenhuttl’s underwhelming Southampton, dozed through another underwhelming cup final defeat against City and now welcome another manager-less slump of a club (with apologies to Mason and Heckingbottom) with Sheffield United making their first visit to the empty temple since Pochettino and Wilder teams stalemated themselves in a 1-1 draw way back in November 2019.

Oh, and Levy sacked Mourinho.

So let’s talk about the European Super League and the future of this once great club.

Continue reading “Danned if we do, Danned if we don’t”

Toby Alderweireld confident ‘positive’ Ryan Mason can deliver silverware

By David Hytner, The Guardian

It has only been a matter of days but, to Toby Alderweireld, it is already plain. After the turbulence of the José Mourinho era, the reservations about his style that built to a tipping point, Tottenham have gone back to the future with the appointment of Ryan Mason. “You can see the similarities between Ryan and Mauricio Pochettino, how he wants to train, how his sessions are,” Alderweireld says. “It feels very familiar. He will bring his own view of football and his own ideas but we can see the similarities, for sure.

“Everyone knows he played at Spurs under Pochettino, he has a lot of ideas from him and we only can agree that’s very good. Everyone was performing very well under Pochettino and so Ryan’s mind in football is positive – it’s going forward and everyone is seeing his ideas. Even though it’s quite early, it’s a positive vibe he brings.”

It is often the case in football – and certainly during Daniel Levy’s 20-year chairmanship at Spurs – that when a managerial change is made, the new man is a reaction to the old one. Levy, for example, has bounced from Glenn Hoddle to David Pleat to Jacques Santini; from Juande Ramos to Harry Redknapp to André Villas-Boas.

Pochettino to Mourinho in November 2019 was quite the shift, with Levy betting on the latter’s CV and his proven ability to deliver silverware quickly, even if he tends to burn the house down shortly afterwards. The feeling at the time was that it was an uncharacteristic Levy hire with the potential for conflict, particularly over transfer business, but it might be worth it to harden the squad’s mentality, to help them to win something. And it was definitely a box-office move.

Mourinho’s tenure followed a familiar course. A charm offensive; initial difficulties giving way to a firm identity; substance over style; momentum created. And then it unravelled. The low-block approach stripped of its justification when results turned; players frustrated with Mourinho’s criticisms and his chopping and changing, not knowing where they stood.

The difference, of course, was that there was no trophy and it is quite the irony – and the reflection of how keen Levy was to jettison Mourinho – that it is now Mason who has the opportunity to win one in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final against Manchester City. The 29-year-old, who only got the job on Monday and is the youngest manager in Premier League history, will be in charge of a senior team for the second time, having overseen Wednesday’s 2-1 home win against Southampton.

At this point, with Mason set to be in the post until the end of the season, it is a stretch to say that he could “do a Solskjær” and go from caretaker to permanent choice at the club for which he previously played. But he feels like an easier fit for Levy and a gentler transition to whichever manager will lead the club in the longer-term.

It is as if Levy has been reminded of what he had with Pochettino – a believer in a project and the development of young players, in front-foot football, who did not necessarily need expensive signings – because he is understood to be seeking the same characteristics in his next appointment.

Alderweireld is extremely careful not to throw any shade on Mourinho. He describes how “everybody was hurt to hear when he wasn’t our manager any more”, how the timing was “the same surprise for us as for everyone else”, that “everyone was fighting and doing the best they can to change things around”.

He adds: “We have to respect his career, we have to respect how good he is. Unfortunately we didn’t get the results together that we wanted. Again, a lot of respect, even a thank you. Maybe the results didn’t go that way but 100% he made everyone better. For sure, his ways and how he looked about football … you have to respect them.”

Can Alderweireld explain how the team hit a wall after being top of the table in early December? “It’s difficult to put an answer there,” he replies. “I understand people want to know that maybe things are not going in the right direction and in the dressing room but that was not it. Again, every player gave 100% to change things.”

Alderweireld’s change in tone is marked when he discusses Mason, the shackles off. “It’s going wonderfully,” he says. “He is a big personality, how he talks. He’s only 29 but he presents himself as very mature. We played with him so we know him. There’s a lot of respect and everyone agrees with how he wants to play football looking forward. He is the boss but you can talk to him and it’s good he sees football this way. It’s not maybe like the old days where: ‘This is the way and that’s it.’ No. It’s a very positive dynamic.”

And so to the final, in which Spurs will attempt to win their first trophy since 2008. “We didn’t get silverware but the steps this club has taken in the last five, six, seven years are big,” the defender says. “Don’t underestimate that even if you get used to it quite quickly.

“We played in the Champions League, not last year but we were there four times in a row before that. You can’t say we weren’t good or say Spurs don’t have winners. You have to win to get in finals. You have to win to get into the top four. That is not silverware but maybe now we are in a moment to get everyone to just shut up and get it.

“City have unbelievable qualities but we have to go with our strengths and not only stop them but try to beat them. That is the mindset that we have to have.”

3-0

St Jude – The Patron Saint Of Lost Casuses

With Wasdan off duty tonight (huge respect and thanks to him for bloeugin throughout this season), it behoeufs me to try to cobble something together. It’s been a while, so do be gentle – or just skip this bit and start commenting.

What a week, eh?

From dwindling hope in the run-up to the Everton game…to absolutely none after it…to a classic Spurs fan’s glimmer as Wet Spam, Liverpool and Chelsea all drop points…to a raging torrent as Mourninho gets the tin tack. Top 4 is back on! Well, at least until tonight. But I’ll take a sunny Wednesday with the dastardly Super League on the back burner. How much worse than the new dastardly Champions League is it, by the way?

Anyway, back to Southampton at home, a tie with banana-skin not so much ‘written all over it‘, as indelibly tattooed deep into our psyche when we’re in a position to give us half a chance of putting pressure on those around us. But…but. Now we have Sir Ryan of Mason at the helm, a nice guy, Spurs through and through, who’s already ruled out any joshing from his previous teammates (“There won’t be banter between me and the lads.”). Could he do the unthinkable and give us the kind of bounce that only Jump4Joy Bouncy Castles could hope for in their dreams?

For me it’s implausible. These players have been so psychologically damaged by 4 years of being nearly-men under Poch, followed by the worst of Mourinho’s psy-ops, that they will stutter again at the first sight of a goal threat. I’m sure Ryan will be looking to insert Bale and Dele back in the team asap and “get us on the front foot” but scoring goals is not really my concern (even without Kaneinho). It’s what happens when a team like Southampton break into the open space we’ve left behind as the New Buccaneering Spurs™️. Walker-Peters careering down the flank. Che Adams, or just as bad, Danny Ings in the middle. Or both. Ward-Prowse able to deliver the kind of dead-ball Eriksen can only dream of. Bednarek or Vestegaard to swat Toby/Eric/Davinson out of the way. Stuff of nightmares.

After that cold bath, let me put another scenario. Ryan Mason has actually been at the Club throughout this period coaching the U17s, U18s, U23s. He either knows these 1st team players or in passing around Hotspur Way. He can lean on Harry and PEH for some ideas as to how best to set up. He can’t reasonably expect to coach anything new in 48 hours. All he needs to do is pick an attacking side, give them his trust and belief and have them run araaand a bit. Bale and Dele looked great together when given the chance. Sonny is due a proper bit of form…

And so to selections. My take is that we have 2 attacking full backs and Davies & Doherty are injured anyway. So play to their strengths. If we’re doing that we need to be solid in front of the defence but not so much so that we don’t have any creativity in midfield (ie not 2 DMs). This is the team I would like to see play (with PEH told to shield the Back 4):

Lloris

Aurier Rodon Alderweireld Reguilon

NDombele Hojbjerg (DM) Lo Celso

Bale Dele Sonny

European Super League: Uefa furious at 11 major clubs signing up to breakaway plans

By Simon Stone BBC Sport

Senior Uefa figures are furious that 11 major European clubs, including five from England, have signed up to a breakaway European Super League.

BBC Sport was told last week of plans for some sort of confirmation about a European Super League.

Uefa hoped to head off plans with a new-look 36-team Champions League set to be confirmed on Monday.

Uefa said it will use “all measures available” to stop the “cynical project” of a breakaway Super League.

The European governing body released a joint statement together with the English Football Association, Premier League Spanish Football Federation (RFEF), La Liga, and the Italian Football Federation (FIGC) as well as Serie A on Sunday.

They said they will “remain united” in trying to stop the breakaway, using both judicial and sporting measures if required.

They also reiterated Fifa’s stance that players taking part in the Super League would be banned from all other competitions at domestic, European or world level and could be prevented from representing their national teams.

In a separate statement, the Premier League said it condemned the proposal as it “attacks the principles of open competition and sporting merit which are at the heart” of domestic and European football.

Juventus owner Andrea Agnelli, Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and AC Milan chief executive Ivan Gazidis would all have had a significant input into the Champions League discussions on Friday.

However, it appears those clubs are among those to have broken ranks, to the fury of Uefa, whose president Aleksander Ceferin wanted to stave off a Super League threat.

Spanish La Liga sides Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are also part of the 11-team group, as are Italian Serie A club Inter Milan.

None of the clubs concerned have responded to questions about the proposals.

The Premier League said a European Super League would “destroy” the dream of fans that “their team may climb to the top and play against the best”.

It added such a league would “undermine the appeal of the whole game” and that they would work with the FA, the English Football League, Professional Footballers’ Association, League Managers Association and fans to “defend the integrity and future prospects of English football”.

The FA said it will “not provide permission to any competition that would be damaging to English football” and will “take any legal and/or regulatory action necessary” to stop it.

Bundesliga sides are opposed to the plans because the German model means commercial investors cannot have more than a 49% stake in clubs, so fans hold a majority of their own voting rights.

It is understood French Ligue 1 side Paris St-Germain are not part of the 11-team group.

Uefa said it thanked “those clubs in other countries, especially the French and German clubs, who have refused to sign up” to the breakaway league.

“We call on all lovers of football, supporters and politicians, to join us in fighting against such a project if it were to be announced,” they added.

“This persistent self-interest of a few has been going on for too long. Enough is enough.”

Quite when the European Super League would start is unclear.

However, world governing body Fifa has already said it would not recognise such a competition and any players involved in it would be denied the chance to play at a World Cup.

Serie A have called an emergency board meeting to discuss the matter.

The Football Supporters’ Association said it is “totally opposed” to the plans, which it said were “motivated by nothing but cynical greed”.

They added: “This competition is being created behind our backs by billionaire club owners who have zero regard for the game’s traditions and continue to treat football as their personal fiefdom.”

It has been agreed the new-look Champions League will involve an initial phase where every club plays 10 matches each rather than the current group phase.

In addition there would be play-offs, followed by a knockout phase.

The most controversial aspect of the proposals surround the allocation of the four additional places, with two being reserved for the clubs ranked highest in Uefa’s co-efficient table who fail to qualify for the Champions League through their domestic competition, but do secure some kind of European football.

At the moment, Liverpool and Chelsea would be the clubs who benefited from that system if it was in place this season.

Everton Vs Tottenham Hotspur Preview

By Keshav Awasty  The Hard Tackle

Everton and Tottenham Hotspur will be desperate to keep their fading top four hopes alive when they lock horns at Goodison Park on Friday.

The games continue to come thick and fast all across Europe and in England, Gameweek 32 of the 2021/22 Premier League season will kick off this week. First-up in the latest round of fixtures will be an intriguing match-up that will pit Everton against Tottenham Hotspur at Goodison Park on Friday night.

Everton have made definitive progress under the tutelage of Carlo Ancelotti and for large parts of the ongoing season, it looked like they could make a case for a top four finish. However, the Toffees have been quite inconsistent since the turn of the year, winning just five of their 14 Premier League games, and none of their last four. As a result, the Merseysiders have been sliding down the table and are currently 8th.

Tottenham are pretty much in the same boat as their hosts on Friday, having gone from leading the rest of the Premier League to becoming mere outside contenders for a top four finish. Ever since December, Jose Mourinho & co. have been nothing short of dismal, with Spurs winning just seven of their last 17 in the league, leaving them 7th in the standings, 6 points behind West Ham United in 4th.

Everton and Tottenham have already clashed with each other twice this season, with the Toffees winning both the games so far – 1-0 in the Premier League back in September, and 5-4 in the FA Cup fifth round. Ahead of the latest meeting between the two sides, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.

Team News & Tactics

Everton

Carlo Ancelotti has greeted a mixed bag of updates on the team news front ahead of the visit of Tottenham Hotspur. While his squad’s frustrating injury woes have eased up a fair bit, on Friday, the Everton boss will continue to be bereft of the services of as many as six first-team players.

The confirmed absentees are Yerry Mina (hip), Fabian Delph (tendon injury), Jean-Philippe Gbamin (knee), Abdoulaye Doucoure (foot), Bernard (knock) and Dominic Calvert-Lewin (hip), whose unavailability hurts Everton the most ahead of the game against Tottenham.

In some good news, though, the likes of Jordan Pickford, Allan, Andre Gomes and Joshua King are all back at the disposal of Ancelotti, who would be starting to get relieved over the status of the injuries in his squad. Pickford should be recalled to the starting lineup straightaway, with the Englishman taking his place in goal.

In front of Pickford, Everton ought to line up in a 3-4-1-2 formation, whose variants have been used a fair bit lately by Ancelotti.  The back three should see Mason Holgate line up alongside Ben Godfrey and Michael Keane, with the Englishman dropping back into defence due to the absence of Mina.

As for the midfield, the fit-again Allan should return straightaway, with the Brazilian pairing up with Tom Davies in the middle of the park, while Gylfi Sigurdsson will have the freedom to express himself higher up the pitch for the most part. Seamus Coleman and Lucas Digne will be the two wing-backs, with James Rodriguez and Richarlison forming the strike partnership that will have Rodriguez playing off of the Brazilian.

Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Pickford; Godfrey, Holgate, Keane; Coleman, Allan, Davies, Digne; Sigurdsson Rodriguez, Richarlison

Tottenham Hotspur

Unlike his counterpart in the Everton dugout, Jose Mourinho does not have several pressing issues hampering his preparations ahead of the trip to Goodison Park. On Friday, the Tottenham Hotspur manager will only have to make do without a couple of first-team players.

Full-backs Ben Davies and Matt Doherty remain on the sidelines, with a return date yet to be set for either player. In their continued absence, Serge Aurier and Sergio Reguilon will retain their places in the side as the full-back pairing.

The duo will flank Toby Alderweireld and Joe Rodon, with the former replacing Eric Dier at the heart of the Tottenham defence following his disastrous showing against Manchester United. In goal, there is no looking past captain Hugo Lloris.

Another change to the starting lineup will see Giovani Lo Celso drop down to the bench, freeing up Tanguy Ndombele to reprise the no. 10 role, which will see him be a sort of an enforcer higher up the pitch. Ndombele’s vacated spot in the double pivot will be occupied by Moussa Sissoko, who pairs up with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in the middle of the park.

As for the attack, Harry Kane and Son Heung-min are certainties for Tottenham in most games, with the star forward pairing likely to be accompanied by Lucas Moura, who has usurped Gareth Bale, Erik Lamela and Steven Bergwijn in the final third lately.

Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Aurier, Alderweireld, Rodon, Reguilon; Hojbjerg, Sissoko; Lucas, Ndombele, Son; Kane

Stats

  • Everton’s 1-0 win in the reverse fixture on the opening day of the season ended a run of 15 league games without a victory against Tottenham Hotspur. After also beating Spurs 5-4 in the FA Cup, the Toffees are aiming to win three consecutive meetings with Spurs in all competitions for the first time since 1986.
  • Tottenham, though, are unbeaten in their past seven away league matches against Everton since losing three in a row between January 2011 and December 2012. Spurs have won 27 Premier League matches versus the Toffees, more than they have against any other side.
  • Everton are looking to avoid a fifth straight league match without a win for the first time since December 2018. The fifth game of that run was a 6-2 home defeat against Spurs. Meanwhile, another top-flight home defeat on Friday would be Everton’s eighth this season, equalling their record for a 38-match Premier League campaign, set in both 1996/97 and 2015/16. Only Fulham and Liverpool have earned fewer points at home in 2021 than Everton’s tally of five.
  • Tottenham have dropped 18 points from winning positions in the Premier League this season, second only to Brighton & Hove Albion’s 20,
  • Everton could become just the third side to complete a league double against a side managed by Jose Mourinho. Both instances have been since he joined Spurs: against Chelsea in 2019/20 and Liverpool this season.

In the news for all the wrong reasons the last time Tottenham took the field, Son Heung-min kicked up a furious debate between Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the aftermath of Spurs’ game against Manchester United following his ridiculous decision to draw a foul from Scott McTominay in the first half.

Quite often a player who lets his game do the talking for him, Son will be eager to do just that when Tottenham face Everton next up. With the north Londoners’ top four hopes starting to fade, it is up to Son and Kane to rekindle that attacking spark to power their side back up the table, with the games starting to run out. It all starts with the outing at Goodison Park versus Everton.

Prediction

Everton 1-2 Tottenham Hotspur

This is a game that is unlikely to have a lot of goals in it, despite the last meeting between the two sides being a goal fest. For Everton, it will once again be the case of struggling in the absence of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, having won just 25 percent of their Premier League games without the English striker this season, compared to a 50 percent win rate when he has been involved.

As for Tottenham, they have scored just 15 goals in their 14 away league games since plundering 11 in their opening two on the road. It all points towards the game possibly having just the odd goal in it, with Spurs holding the advantage in the absence of Calvert-Lewin, with Son Heung-min and Harry Kane likely to combine for the match-winning strike for Jose Mourinho & co.

Mr Gold. Enough is Enough, No more Mr Nice guy..

ByAlasdair Gold: Football.London

Boring predictability

One thing that was always difficult to level against Tottenham Hotspur was that they were boring.

That is no longer the case though with a boring predictability when it comes to how matches will unfold for the north London side.

The team’s performances will mostly start brightly, with the players creating a couple of chances and often scoring a goal or two before sitting back, wobbling in defence and then losing control of the game and therefore needing to react and create chances without success as they strive for a way back.

These performances are now expected, often whatever the opposition, and they shouldn’t be.

Some statistics released by Sky on Sunday after the defeat to Manchester United were as damning as they are ridiculous.

Spurs rank second in the Premier League for scoring first in matches, doing so 19 times – although they have actually led 22 times in all in their 31 league games.

Jose Mourinho‘s side have been ahead 16 times at half-time in those matches, again the second highest number in the Premier League.

Then the stats go from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Tottenham have failed to win when ahead at half-time on seven occasions – the worst record in the Premier League.

They have dropped 18 points from winning positions – joint 19th in the league – and have conceded nine goals in the last 10 minutes of matches and dropped 11 points from goals conceded in those final 10 minutes – both stats the worst in the Premier League.

How does Mourinho fix such a glaring problem within the club? Well we’d love to know the answer to that but he won’t tell anyone.

As predictable as the performances is the Portuguese’s unwillingness to explain how he plans to fix the issues within his team.

The longer he continues to say he won’t answer the question publicly and the longer the issues continue to seep throughout the season, the more people will wonder if he does actually have the answer or if he does, it doesn’t simply involve spending copious amount of money.

Mourinho hit out at the media this week on Friday for writing about the Toby Alderweireld situation and his criticism of players and then on Sunday further chastised journalists for not asking him a question he wanted to answer – about Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s comments on TV on Son Heung-min, something most press inside the stadium would not have seen.

Mourinho believes that he often gets criticised for saying or doing things when other managers will not even get a mention for doing the same. That’s certainly a fair comment as his personality, words and previous successes throw the glare and scrutiny on him more than others.

However, the problem for Mourinho right now with the media is that if he’s not willing or able to answer the questions asked, then not only will the media have to get the answers elsewhere but they will also be less inclined to ask the questions he is hoping for.

Mourinho’s logic in swerving certain questions – last weekend it was about how to fix the late goals being conceded, on Friday it was to clarify the Toby Alderweireld situation and on Sunday it was why Spurs have a tag as being a soft touch – appears to be that he’s trying to protect his players.

However, he’s also been criticizing his players anyway in previous weeks and his unwillingness to answer, even to defend them, suggest an answer without words.

“I can’t say what I think. You know that. You know that. You sometimes want to bring me to deep questions, to deep analysis, but then when I go, I realise that I cannot go,” he said on Sunday when asked whether Spurs have always and continue to be a soft touch.

“So this is the kind of debate for pundits, journalists to have. Is much more difficult for me to go into that. I would say: that one thing is opinions, another thing is facts.

“Opinions can be discussed, but facts, they cannot be discussed. If you go to certain numbers, to certain stats, you arrive to conclusions, facts, and then of course pundits, people with experience, with vision, with knowledge, they can have the opinions they want. Many, many times I would agree, other times I would disagree, but I don’t want to go into that debate.”

The previous weekend when asked how Tottenham can fix their huge and ongoing problem of conceding those late goals he simply said: “I cannot tell you, I don’t want to tell you. I think it’s for me and not for you. It’s for me.”

It might be for him and not anyone else, but nothing is changing and the answer doesn’t seem forthcoming. 

Some might even suggest that with those frequent thrown away leads that Tottenham are more ‘Spursy’ now under Mourinho than they were before his arrival.

Broken Sonny

Few sights exemplify the mood at Tottenham more than the uncomfortable interview with Son Heung-min, conducted by the club’s own in-house media after Sunday’s game.

The 28-year-old, who scored Spurs’ only goal on the day, is one of the happiest, most popular men at the club, his smile and joking infectious among the squad.

Sunday’s interview showed a broken Son, appearing to be bordering on the edge of tears at points and so thoroughly worn down by yet another faltering performance by the team. It was not too dissimilar to Joe Rodon’s interview just moments before.

Even the experienced interviewer admitted to Son that he had never seen him like this in his six years at the club.

“I’m really disappointed this afternoon. I really don’t know what to say. I’m really sorry about it and I feel bad,” said Son.

“There’s always been passion from outside, from this stadium, and those who support us I know are really, really disappointed. I think they’re even more disappointed than us so feel really bad and sorry about it. A really sad afternoon.”

He added: “It’s a really sad afternoon because…(stops and rubs face) I really don’t know what to say. I know it sounds really crazy and it sounds really not normal that I’m down but it’s about the results.

“If we win I’m really happy and if we lose I’m really down for two or three days. So yeah, what can I say, we have to bounce back next Friday.”

Son knows that Spurs’ chances of playing Champions League football next season have in a fortnight leapt from being almost within their own control to being a distant hope.

If you’ve broken the normally ever positive Son then you know things are not going well.

He was also involved in the game’s controversial moment, as Scott McTominay’s flicked out hand caught him in the face in the build-up to Edinson Cavani scoring in the first half and the ‘goal’ was ruled out after referee Christopher Kavanagh was advised to check his pitch-side monitor.

It was an unnatural flicking out of McTominay’s hand rather than a straight arm shielding the ball and while pundits will dispute the strength of the contact made, as soon as the referee was advised to take a proper look he took little time in deciding that it was a foul.

Solskjaer’s comments about Son afterwards were bizarre and strikingly similar to those he made about Erik Lamela at Old Trafford earlier in the season after Anthony Martial’s red card.

“If that was my son and he stays down and he needs his mates to help him up, he doesn’t get food because that’s embarrassing,” Solskjaer told the television cameras. “The game’s absolutely gone.”

Solskjaer had said about Lamela back in October: “If that was my son he’d be living on water and bread for two weeks. That’s not how I want my players to act.”

The Norwegian’s odd predilection with talking about starving his children enraged Mourinho, who had been told about the comments after fulfilling his own TV and radio commitments.

He confronted Solskjaer after the United manager’s press conference and it came after one fiery encounter between the two in the first half that had already been patched up in the tunnel at half-time.

This time there was a long delay between the United and Tottenham press conferences after the game and that was due to their disagreement.

“I told Ole already this because I met him just a few minutes ago – if it’s me, telling that player A B or C from another club, if it was my son I wouldn’t give him dinner tonight, what would be the reaction of that? It’s very very sad,” he said.

“I think it’s really sad that you don’t ask me about that. It’s sad you don’t have the moral honesty to treat me the same way as you treat others.

“In relation to that, I just want to say that Sonny is very lucky that his father is a better person than Ole. I am a father. I think as a father you have always to feed your kids.

“Doesn’t matter what they do. If you have to steal to feed your kids, you steal. I’m very very disappointed. As we say in Portugal, bread is bread and cheese and is cheese. I told Ole already what I think about his comments and I’m very disappointed that in five, six seven questions you ignore the dimensions of that comment.”

It wasn’t just Solskjaer’s comments that Son had to deal with after the game as he was racially abused on social media, coming in the wake of Davinson Sanchez’s racist abuse the previous weekend.

Screenshots show some Manchester United fans, as well as some from other clubs, posting numerous racially abusive tweets about Son in the replies to Spurs’ official account’s posts on Sunday afternoon.

“Another matchday and more abhorrent racial abuse suffered by one of our players,” the club said in a tweeted statement

“This has again been reported to the platforms and we shall now undertake a full review alongside the Premier League to determine the most effective action moving forward. We stand with you, Sonny.”

Social media combined with angry criticism of players provides a vehicle for those who are desperate to use racist abuse, regardless of the context, to get themselves seen and heard. They seem to take a perverse pleasure in the actions of doing so.

The problem is holding them accountable for those as they often hide behind faceless profiles, or images of other players, safe in the knowledge that they are likely to get away with any real consequences.

While most of the posts, if not all, will have been deleted and accounts suspended, it does not take much effort for those involved to simply start another account.

The increasingly disgusted voice of powerful football clubs and the overwhelming majority of fans at all clubs who find such behaviour abhorrent is going to start putting real pressure on social media companies like Twitter and Facebook.

They will begin to lose those huge accounts that provoke the most interaction on their platforms and others will step into the breach to create new social media outlets with tougher controls. Something has to change.

The defence

Once again all eyes will turn to Tottenham’s defence and the ease at which Manchester United swept through three times.

Mourinho had made a rod for his own back before the game by once again leaving Toby Alderweireld out in the cold – he was on the bench at least this time – while Davinson Sanchez found himself the man left out entirely.

Every centre-back at the club has found himself out of the team for long periods this season, but Alderweireld’s absence when Spurs are desperately crying out for some composure is the most perplexing of all.

It seemed like the perfect time to bring the Belgian back into the fold after the confusing circumstances of his exclusion last week but instead Eric Dier got the nod.

Dier brought what he often does – some fantastic moments of defending mixed with some poor moments of positioning and decision-making.

The 27-year-old pulled off a top drawer sliding tackle to deny Marcus Rashford in the first half and then blocked a Paul Pogba backheel right in front of goal in the second period.

However, he was beaten far too easily for Cavani’s ruled out effort, then combined with Serge Aurier to completely lose the Uruguayan for his game-changing diving header before being left clutching at shadows in the build-up to United’s third, finished by Mason Greenwood.

Alongside him Joe Rodon again showed promise and is clearly a talent Spurs can work with for the future, but he needs stability alongside him.

Mourinho’s displeasure with his defence is clear, even if he expresses it by not talking about them other than the odd barbed comment about the things that turn his hair grey.

What does not make sense though is that if he does not trust the backline to sit on a lead then do the opposite – attack.

The old cliché is that attack is the best form of defence because it keeps the ball at the other end of the pitch and Spurs’ defence is set up for getting the ball forward rather than stopping it.

Serge Aurier and Sergio Reguilon love to attack down the flanks and at times on Sunday their instructions were clearly giving them issues.

Reguilon in particular looked hampered and there were plenty of occasions when he got to the halfway line and looked to pass or stopped a run short to leave Son or Ndombele in the United half without any overlapping run to look to. Instead they had to turn inside and the momentum was gone.

For Aurier, either his instructions were slightly different or he just ignores them more often but the Ivorian was all too often going to the other extreme, finding himself far out of position up the pitch and leaving the eventually knackered Ndombele or Lo Celso to run back and uncomfortably act as a full-back.

If the full-backs are to attack then two anchor men are required in front of the defence to cover or a midfielder who can sit back to split the defence as a three, as Dier used to do between Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.

Spurs’ attacking quality lies far more in the attack than in their defence, so use that. Make the most of the talent with in the team.

Mourinho’s reputation proceeds him when it comes to defensive football but he’s also no fool.

If the balance of the squad does concern him then that is a problem to be addressed in the next transfer window but for now he must just play to the strengths of the team.

No identity

The most jarring thing right now for Tottenham is that they have no identity as a football team or club – or at least not a good one.

In Mauricio Pochettino‘s prime years in N17, Spurs had pace, power and a snarling aggression in their pressing that would unsettle opponents and then they would use their attacking qualities to tear teams apart.

While the Argentine ultimately could not fix the mental fragility in the biggest of games he did solve the week in, week out problems late in matches and Spurs would often strike in the final moments or keep clean sheets under pressure during those three years they finished in the top three. They were not brittle.

This current Tottenham Hotspur side has no identity.

It’s not the team it was and it’s not a trademark Mourinho team. It’s something in the centre, awkward and it’s fallen between the cracks.

The players can certainly bear some of the responsibility, particularly those who went a similar way in their performances towards the end of the Pochettino era.

Mourinho has played his part with his confrontational management style, pulling down some of the tightknit foundations built by the Argentine.

The chairman Daniel Levy also has to take his share of the blame for appointing a manager who would need to make wholesale changes to make his methods work and then not being able to provide him with those changes.

Another major issue for Mourinho is that Spurs were once one of the fittest teams in Europe, as evidenced by their late goals, most famously seen on that night in Amsterdam near the end of a gruelling campaign.

Pochettino’s pre-seasons were infamous – Tanguy Ndombele admitted to football.london that he wanted to leave the club after his first one – but they meant Tottenham had few peers when it came to their fitness.

Spurs have certainly played a lot of matches in a compacted season this time around but they had all week to prepare for this game against Manchester United and they ended up looking out on their feet in the final 10 minutes against a side that had only flown back from their game in Granada on Friday.

United looked like they could have kept on playing for another 90 minutes while Spurs were chasing shadows for the third goal.

That lack of fitness will have played its part in not only their ability to drive on late in games but also tiredness mentally with their decision-making and that must have contributed to some of the late goals conceded.

Mourinho will also have been concerned that Solskjaer needed just to show his players some video analysis of Spurs on the morning of the game in order to outthink his opposite number and figure out their hosts.

Despite all of that, any suggestion that the players have downed tools is not true at this point and many do have good relationships with the head coach, even if there is that fear factor of not knowing whether they will be next to lose their place. Many will want to play in a rare cup final for the club.

They appear to still be playing for Mourinho and the sight of Tanguy Ndombele sprinting 40 yards to press and win the ball back in the United half towards the end of the first half, among other similar moments from other players, showed that he still has them working for him.

One problem for him will be maintaining the balance within the squad of those he has on his side and those he hasn’t, particularly once the cup final has come and gone.

Dele Alli and Harry Winks have become benchwarmers while the use of Gareth Bale has been baffling.

The Welshman was certainly flat for months as the psychological scars of previous injuries affected him, but he roared back with a month’s worth of fine displays and gave Spurs something exciting about their play during that time.

However, one poor display in the north London derby – he was not alone in that regard – and Bale looks to have paid the price for that day.

Levy is paying the price for bringing in the 31-year-old as the club’s top earner – in terms of basic salary – and yet seeing him given the odd minute here or there.

There is a dose of irony to the winger’s use under Mourinho in recent weeks. The Spurs boss appears to have no real desire to use the player but acknowledges with his actions in the final minutes that he needs him to try to save the day. The two don’t really marry up and that pretty much sums up the pairing of Mourinho and Bale.

This season will be defined for Tottenham in the next three matches.

The Premier League encounters against Everton away and Southampton at home will go a long way to deciding if Spurs have anything left to fight for in the league. Mourinho admitted on Sunday that even finishing in the top six will be difficult.

Then there is the cup final and right now Tottenham fans are more concerned about not being embarrassed at Wembley on April 25 than realistically thinking their team can win the showpiece game.

That says it all right now about not only the team’s identity but the supporters’ growing disconnect with them.

How do you sell Tottenham as they are right now to stars like Harry Kane who may be looking at England team-mates’ glittering CVs with envious eyes or to new signings the club will try to attract in the summer? 

Spurs were heading somewhere and were threatening to upset the established order in football, but a combination of factors from the very top down mean they’re now stuttering badly and they need to find their feet again.

Mourinho’s tactics look like they’re designed to absolve him of blame and put pressure on Tottenham players

Many years ago, there was a lively post-match debate on Sky Sports between Graeme Souness and Gordon Strachan.

The subject was the optimum way to defend corners, because the two Scots had just watched a team using zonal marking concede from a set piece.

Strachan was a proponent of defending zonally at corners, pointing to statistics about its increased effectiveness and explaining that it prevented attacking block-offs. Souness insisted that man-marking was a better approach. His main point, which he repeated on multiple occasions, was that “zonal marking lets players off the hook”.

Souness, whether or not he realised it, was effectively saying that his tactical preference stemmed from wanting to pin the blame for conceding on a player. If a zonal marking approach fails, the system — and therefore the manager who implements it — is considered culpable. But in a man-marking system, if someone gets outjumped by an opponent, you can point the finger directly at them.

And therefore what appeared a tactical debate was, in actual fact, nothing of the sort. It was really a debate about man-management, about the relationship between players and their boss, about the extent to which a manager must carry the can for their failings on the pitch. Strachan focused upon which was best for the team. Souness was about which was best for him.

This decade-old debate came to mind this week, in light of Jose Mourinho’s reaction to Tottenham Hotspur drawing at Newcastle United from 2-1 up with six minutes left, while permitting their highest single-game xG figure of the Premier League season so far. BBC reporter Juliette Ferrington asked Mourinho why his side keep on relinquishing leads, whereas previously his sides were renowned for hanging onto them. “Same coach, different players,” Mourinho responded.

Not for the first time, a revealing answer stemmed from a question framed in light of his previous successes — Mourinho has a habit of giving more detailed answers to questions that begin with things like “Jose, as someone who has won it all…”

It would be quite possible, though, for his players to respond in kind.
To varying extents, the likes of Toby Alderweireld, Eric Dier and Davinson Sanchez have previously played in a stern Spurs defence under Mauricio Pochettino. That was an entirely different style of defending, based around pressure in advanced positions and a high line.

When that defensive approach got breached, we tended to talk about the high line rather than the individuals.

It’s the same, for example, for Hansi Flick’s Bayern Munich, who used an extraordinarily high line en route to European Cup success last year. It was impossible to watch them defend against Barcelona in the last eight or final opponents Paris Saint-Germain without almost jumping out of your seat, such was the bravery of their high line. Had they conceded to PSG from a through-ball and a run in behind, Flick would have been blamed. But he would probably have accepted responsibility, for he knows that a high-risk, high-reward strategy is best for his side.

Mourinho once used that approach. Watch his triumphant Porto side throughout the Champions League knockout phase in 2003-04 and you’ll be surprised by how high his defence position themselves. These days, his defences sit deeper, dropping back to their own penalty box quickly, particularly if Tottenham have gone ahead. On multiple occasions this season, that approach has cost them. While Mourinho would explain it forms part of his attacking strategy, attempting to draw the opposition forward and give Spurs space to counter-attack into, rarely have his side constructed regular breaks to justify their deep positioning.

The thing with defending deep is that you’re asking your defenders to do more traditional defensive tasks. There are more aerial challenges inside your box, more situations where you have to stick tight to a player who is in a goalscoring position, more danger to anticipate and more blocks to be made. It also means that it’s more possible to concede goals that are not, in isolation, attributable to managerial strategy.

When Tottenham lost 2-1 away to Liverpool in December, for example, the goals came from a crazy deflection, and then a late set-piece concession (from, of course, man-to-man marking).

The first goal was unfortunate, but if you allow the opposition 76 per cent of the possession and 17 shots to your eight, there’s more chance of one finding its way into the net almost accidentally. Similarly, if you allow that much pressure, you concede more corners than you win (seven to four in this case), and there’s more chance of one leading to a goal. These things add up over time.

It is sometimes said that Mourinho is antiquated tactically; that his inability to win trophies recently is because he hasn’t adjusted strategically. There’s clearly an element of truth to that, in comparison to Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, but his primary problem is surely his inability to command the respect of players over a sustained period of time, evidenced by sudden drop-offs in his pre-Tottenham stints with Chelsea and Manchester United.
It came as little surprise that, after Mourinho responded to Sunday’s 2-2 on Tyneside by blaming his players, some of them objected. It’s difficult to imagine many other current managers responding similarly.

But that’s logical if Mourinho’s tactical approach is also out of step with that of his contemporaries. The tactical development of football, particularly over the last couple of decades, is about universality, about particular tasks being done collectively. Modern sides press aggressively from the front and play out from the back, meaning defensive play starts with your attackers and attacking play starts in defence. Every concept is a task for the entire side.

Mourinho’s approach is more old-school. He works less than other contemporary managers on prepared attacking possession routines, preferring to allow playmakers to find solutions themselves. In a world of false nines, Mourinho has always liked true strikers such as Didier Drogba, Diego Milito and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He also likes proper defenders that belong in their own box: John Terry, Lucio, Ricardo Carvalho.

With that approach, it’s more viable to pin the blame on somebody when things go wrong. If a goal is conceded, a defender is more obviously at fault than the system. And this comes back to that Strachan-Souness debate, which demonstrated that tactical decision-making and man-management are not entirely separate concepts.

Mourinho’s reputation has never been lower, which is why he is determined to shift culpability onto his players and protect himself.

It’s entirely possible that his tactical decision-making is also geared towards absolving himself of blame.

Now, he’s fighting to prove he deserves to be in charge of Tottenham, rather than in his previous role: in a Sky Sports studio, nodding along with Souness.

By Michael Cox writing for the Athletic

What UEFA’s Financial Fair Play decision could mean for Levy, Mourinho and Tottenham transfers

Reports claim that Financial Fair Play regulations are set to be scrapped with clubs gaining more freedom in the way they spend their money as a result

Tottenham fans will have their fingers crossed that the club spend heavily in the transfer market this summer as they bid to challenge at the top of the Premier League.

Leading the pack in December prior to their late defeat away at Liverpool, Jose Mourinho’s side have slipped down the standings in 2021 so far due to their mixed form.null

Now in sixth after their 2-0 win over Aston Villa on Sunday evening, Spurs face a battle to secure a place in next season’s Champions League as they currently sit three points behind Chelsea in fourth.

Although Tottenham did bring in seven new faces in the summer despite the Coronavirus pandemic crippling all clubs’ finances, some of their recent performances have highlighted that more money needs to be spent if they are to contest for major honours on a regular basis.

But things could potentially be set to become a bit trickier for a number of clubs as they look to get on par with those always consistently riding high at the top.

According to Italian publication Gazzetta dello Sport (via Calcio Finanza ), UEFA are set to host a video conference on Thursday that could potentially see them call it a day with their Financial Fair Play (FFP) system and replace it with a new set of rules.

The new system would provide clubs with greater freedom over their spending power and have less control on how much they can actually splash out in the transfer market before falling foul of the current regulations that are in place.

This would allow clubs much more flexibility in terms of spending, thus potentially seeing those with wealthy owners blow others away in the transfer market and pull even further ahead.

So what exactly would this mean for Tottenham?

Clearly a positive for many clubs that they could go on and spend copious amounts without breaching FFP regulations, Spurs, on the other hand, are not a club that usually throws enormous sums of money about in the transfer market.

Spending big in 2019/20 with Tanguy Ndombele joining in a club-record move worth £55million and Giovani Lo Celso going on to sign a permanent deal after his initial loan spell, things were a lot different ahead of the current campaign due to the global pandemic.

Daniel Levy was creative and made money available for Mourinho but Spurs’ priciest purchase was Sergio Reguilon joining from Real Madrid for £25m, with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Matt Doherty and Joe Rodon also joining for reasonable fees.

This summer will once again be very tricky for Spurs and all other clubs to deal in due to huge revenue losses, however.

Spending vast amounts of money to build Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the club’s stunning new home has pretty much remained shut over the past 12 months apart from when fans were allowed back inside temporarily during the winter months before the Covid-19 regulations changed in the country once again.

It’s not just Tottenham home games where the club has lost a serious amount of money as boxing, American football, rugby union and rugby league events, as well as a couple of concerts, have unfortunately had to be cancelled due to the current circumstances.

Amid the fear that they may lose more than £200m in revenue, the club took out a £175m loan from the Bank of England last June just to help them through the next year.

While fans will naturally want Tottenham to spend in the summer market as they look to climb back up the table, football.london understands that currently any transfer spending ahead of the 2021/22 campaign will have to be funded by exits from the first team squad.

Man City and Chelsea could be two Premier League clubs who benefit from the new rules that could come into play due to their wealthy owners, yet Tottenham and a host of others may have to wait until their revenue drastically increases again before they can start spending big

2000 Zero Zero Party’s Over Oops Out of Time…

Yet again at this time of year it feels like it’s been one step forwards, another season just about over. It’s no longer as surprising, but it’s still just as gutting, always turning corners to find Spurs standing right back where they started with a ‘wasn’t me, guv’ shrug of the shoulders.

Continue reading “2000 Zero Zero Party’s Over Oops Out of Time…”

Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy has a decision to make as Jose Mourinho’s reign reaches new low

By Miguel Delaney, The Independant

A match that should have been a dead rubber could well prove fatal to Jose Mourinho’s time at Tottenham Hotspur.

Spurs’ defeat by Dinamo Zagreb should certainly give Daniel Levy an awful lot to think about. The nuclear option must be on his mind, given how central the Europa League had been to this season.
When Spurs suffered their first major slump in January – which is probably really still continuing – the boardroom rationale for persisting with Mourinho was that they were still in contention for three trophies as well as the top four. The Europa League was seen as the big target, since it could deliver that long-awaited silverware, while offering a route back into the Champions League. It could have brought it all together. It might now be where it all falls apart.

That’s how bad this elimination was. The Europa League has gone with the FA Cup, and you wouldn’t back them in either the League Cup or Premier League after a performance like this.
Even before you get to the horror of a manager who bases his approach on defence seeing his team squander a 2-0 lead, or the farce that Dinamo Zagreb’s manager was in prison, there is the fact that they lost to a team from the league ranked 19th in Europe.
That just shouldn’t be happening. It is an embarrassment, probably Mourinho’s worst European elimination, and much worse than the nadir of that Champions League loss to Sevilla with Manchester United.
No arguments about the quality of the squad cut it when the opposition is this moderate. It points to something much deeper.
It shouldn’t be forgotten, either, that Mourinho had told Levy on getting the job that this Spurs’ squad could win the league. They are playing far, far beneath that.

Many might point to Hugo Lloris’ form, or the disappointment of Matt Doherty, to go with a multitude of other complaints. Against that, you only have to consider a previous nadir for Spurs, which was a 4-0 destruction at the feet of Liverpool in April 2014. Jan Vertonghen looked a joke that day, the sort of player who should be the first in any clear-out. Under a different manager, he became one of the greatest centre-halves in the history of the club.
The point here isn’t to hark back to Mauricio Pochettino, or reach to an example of years ago. The point is the folly of buying into any ideas this is on the players, or to back Mourinho on a clear-out.

The truth of football – and especially modern football, which has so much more tactical variation – is that players can look totally different under a different manager. It would be a mistake to judge many under this.

This prolonged drop-off is the consequence of many aspects of Mourinho’s management that just aren’t top-level any more. There’s the man-management, which is of a confrontational approach from 15 years ago, that the modern player just doesn’t react to. Some have privately talked of how getting berated has sapped their confidence, exactly as happened at Manchester United and Chelsea. Is it any wonder they look so devoid of belief in such games?

There’s the coaching, particularly in attack, which some players have described as among the most “basic” they’ve come across. Is it any wonder they look so devoid of ideas in such games?
There’s then the tactics, which just seem so reactive, and defensive. Is it any wonder, well, we’re seeing this.

A potentially brutal reality for Levy is that maybe he got a big calculation wrong. It is possible Tottenham’s season was salvageable had they dispensed with Mourinho in January or February. The Premier League is that open. Their squad is that good, particularly in attack, where it’s excellent.

As it is, Levy will be hoping Mourinho can salvage this, and turn it around to win either the League Cup or scrape back into the Champions League. It almost feels like the chance of both are receding by virtue of him just being in the job.

If he is to turn this around, it is coming from an awfully low point. There is a strong argument this might be the worst defeat of his career, given the status, given the stakes, given the state of the game.
It isn’t beyond him to turn it around – depending on what the definition of that is. Mourinho still has some qualities, that have occasionally presented themselves this season.

Whether those qualities justify an upwardly mobile modern club persisting with him is another argument entirely, though. It’s got so bad that “turning it around”, or even somehow winning that League Cup, probably aren’t enough.

On that, the value of that trophy is questionable. The last managers to win it for Spurs were Juande Ramos and George Graham. They are very far off legends in the club’s history.

That was something that Levy had hoped for Mourinho. Right now, he has to consider something else entirely.

It’s Now Let’s Dare Day

Mesut Ozil explains what it was like living at The Emirates, supported by Kolasinac on drums and Perry Groves on bass: Who plays for a club like this? Who plays for a club like this?

What a difference a run of consecutive wins makes, though nothing ever really makes the idea of going to The Emirates feel very pleasant. The only recent times I’ve looked at this away fixture and thought we should probably win it, we’ve ended up on the wrong end of 5-2 stumpings.

Continue reading “It’s Now Let’s Dare Day”

Tottenham v Dinamo Zagreb

Tottenham will be without Giovani lo Celso when they host Dinamo Zagreb in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie on Thursday.

The Argentine midfielder was closing in on a return from a hamstring injury but misses out with a back problem.

Dinamo are likely to be without right-back Sadegh Moharrami, who has been injured since January.

However, midfielder Bartol Franjic returns from suspension and is in contention to start.

Aside from Lo Celso, Joe Rodon is Tottenham’s only absentee with the defender not registered for the competition.

Manager Jose Mourinho has indicated he will make several changes to his starting XI as Spurs seek their fifth consecutive victory in all competitions.

“Am I going to repeat the same team that played against Crystal Palace? No, I’m going to make a few changes,” Mourinho said.

“But the team is working very well, everybody is training hard, everybody is pushing to play, so for me it doesn’t matter who is playing as our team is going to be strong.”

Having delivered four goals and an assist in his last three outings, Mourinho did not confirm whether that would include the rejuvenated Gareth Bale, saying he wants to manage the Wales forward’s minutes.

“I want the momentum to keep going but we have to manage him,” Mourinho said.

“The communication is very good, I believe he trusts me. I trust his experience and judgement and his knowledge of his body.

“He’s playing well, of course I’d like him to be on the pitch for 90 minutes of every match but it’s not possible.”

Spurs play the Croatian side at home on Thursday after the legs were reversed to ensure they do not play in London on the same night as Arsenal, who travel to Greece to play Olympiakos.

Gunners boss Mikel Arteta says that has provided Tottenham with an advantage before this Sunday’s north London derby, but Mourinho was critical of that suggestion and pointed to the week before the reverse fixture in December.

“On 6 December we played against Arsenal in our stadium,” Mourinho added.

“On 3 December Arsenal played at home against Rapid Vienna. At the same time we were playing in the ice in Linz against LASK Linz. We landed in London at 03:00 GMT. Was that an advantage to Arsenal?”

MATCH FACTS

  • Tottenham Hotspur and Dinamo Zagreb have met only once before in European competition; Spurs beat Dinamo 4-0 at home during the group stages of the Uefa Cup in 2008-09, a game in which Darren Bent scored a hat-trick.
  • Tottenham Hotspur have played Croatian opposition on seven previous occasions, with six of those being against Hajduk Split. They have won five times and lost twice, with both of those defeats away to Hajduk (1984 and 1991).
  • Dinamo Zagreb have lost nine of their last 10 matches against English sides in European competition, winning the other game 2-1 against Arsenal in the Champions League group stages in 2015.
  • Dinamo Zagreb have won each of their last six matches in the Europa League, embarking on their longest ever winning run in major European competition.
  • Harry Kane has scored 28 goals in his last 33 starts for Spurs in major European competition, including seven in his last six.

BBC Sport

But You Know That We’ve Changed So Much Since Then…

Back-to-back Premier League wins for the first time since West Brom and Manchester City on 8th and 21st November plus the fact we somehow avoided yet another 1-1 draw are about the only good things to be sucked from that bitter lemon of a second half against Fulham.

Continue reading “But You Know That We’ve Changed So Much Since Then…”

Via the A219

When was the last time we had such impressive back-to-back wins as we’ve just witnessed against Wolfsberger and Burnley?

Roy Keane would probably say it was the last time we faced such poor opposition in back-to-back games and cite Brentford* and Marine on 5th and 10th January, then smirk into his elk’s-backside of a beard while pointing out that the next time we faced not even half-decent opposition – that rearranged game against Fulham on the 13th January – we only managed a 1-1 draw.

Continue reading “Via the A219”

Tottenham v RZ Pellets WAC, Ropey

Tottenham Hotspur boss Jose Mourinho says Gareth Bale does not need to convince him of anything as they prepare for their Europa League last 32 second leg with Wolfsberger.

Bale scored and assisted in the first leg, a 4-1 win, and then set up a goal in Sunday’s 2-1 loss to West Ham.

“I am totally convinced about everything,” Mourinho said.

“It’s about being ready to play the minutes we’d all love him to play. It’s a process.”

Bale has played all of Spurs’ seven Europa League games this season but has only played 90 minutes once in any competition since rejoining on loan from Real Madrid.

Mourinho said: “Of course we’d love him to play every minute of every game. He’s a player with special qualities.

“He had a positive impact against West Ham, a cross, a couple of assists, a shot, he hit the post. He’s doing that better and better. But he’s not playing 90 minutes, he’s not playing every game.

“We’re still managing his evolution. He needs to do nothing to convince me.”

Spurs look in control of the Europa League tie against the Austrian side after winning 4-1 in their ‘away’ leg in Budapest.

No team in Uefa Cup or Europa League history have overturned a three-goal deficit from the first leg at home to progress.

Mourinho says he will name a near full-strength side again at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

“Our starting line-up will be very similar to the one that started the game in Hungary. We want to go strong,” he said.

Match stats – can Spurs make it five in a row?

  • Spurs have won all three of their home matches against Austrian sides and are yet to concede – including a 3-0 win against LASK earlier this season
  • Tottenham have won each of their past four home matches in all European competitions, scoring 16 goals while conceding only twice. They last won five in a row at home in Europe between August 2013 and February 2014.
  • Wolfsberger have played eight away games in all European competitions and have won more games (four) than they have lost (three).
  • No Spurs player has scored more Europa League goals this season than Carlos Vinicius (four, same as Lucas Moura), netting each of these in his past three appearances.