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.

Tottenham’s problems aren’t Mourinho’s fault. Jose said so

Vithushan Ehantharajah The Independant Sports Feature Writer @Vitu_E

Five defeats in the last six. Just three wins in 13 league matches. The 81 points from 50 games in charge at Tottenham Hotspur – the lowest at this stage at any stint at a club. In turn, this 15th loss – an eighth of the season – gives him the lowest league-win percentage of an

If ever there was a moment to ask Jose Mourinho if he was the problem, here it was. That perhaps after his protestations about the players – those he lauded when he first took the job and praised to the hilt during their four weeks at the summit into December – his methods were the problem.

When it came, devoid of the sugar of what he has accomplished, presented ready and raw as a natural query off the back of his worst run as a manager, so came an all too predictable answer.

“No. Not at all. Not at all. Zero.” Then the elaboration: “Sometimes the result are a consequence of multi situations in football. Mine and my coaching staff’s methods are second to nobody in the world.” Even in the face of overwhelming evidence, Mourinho found a brazen excuse where others might have fessed up to their own shortcomings.nullnull

It was almost too neat that he would bring up his half-century against the same team that began in. A 3-2 win back in November 2019, at a London Stadium filled to the brim of disgruntled West Ham fans was set against a calmer Mourinho on his return to management. On Sunday, the freneticism was in every contested throw-in and against every player in white. Every slight against him reverberating off the empty stands as forlornly as they were bellowed out.

Are Spurs in crisis? Yes, probably, though Mourinho even tried to rally against the very definition of that word: “If crisis is frustration and sadness in the dressing room, I would say so because nobody is happy. Groups are in crisis when you are not together in search of better results. I wouldn’t say crisis. I’d say a really bad run of results. We are losing too many matches.” I don’t know about you, but that all sounds like a good old, traditional crisis

There might be some relief for the players within that jumble. We’re at the stage in the Mourinho cycle where they are the problem, and if the English language can take some of the heat off them, they might at least catch a moment’s rest.

This week marked the first trimester of the inward blame season for those with an attuned Mourinho dial. Its warm breeze drifted in last week with talk of “we coaches are as good or as bad as our players make us”, and the weekend’s chat of world-beating practises was a noticeable temperature rise. We can’t be too far away from medals-on-the-table patter and the sweltering days of moles and bad eggs in the dressing room.

However, as well-versed as we may be on the final stanza of this Mourinho story, there is unique toxicity to all this that will affect Spurs more than previous clubs. The kind that calls for more concern than flippancy. Even a degree of vigilance.

When the Special One turned sour against his own at Real Madrid, the players held firm knowing they would outlast him. Plus, where else would they want to go? He sowed the first few seeds for Iker Casillas’s departure. Still, even when that came a couple of years after Mourinho’s departure, the blame was mainly on club president Florentino Perez.

The group at Chelsea stuck around when he left Stamford Bridge swinging at the end of 2015 after nine league defeats, a tally Spurs are in danger of “bettering”. That identical squad, give or take a couple who moved on the following winter, stayed on to lift Chelsea’s fifth Premier League title in 2016/17 under Antonio Conte, including sparring partner Eden Hazard. Only Eva Carneiro was notable collateral from this fallout.

Even Manchester United were relatively intact from a tumultuous two years under the Portuguese. All of Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial remain key players under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in 2021.

When you lay it all out there, for someone who has worked hard to cultivate this image as a Machiavellian, “take no s***” type, Mourinho has a poor track record for taking out his enemies. But the worry for Spurs fans is that he might have more success soon.

He has already seen off Christian Eriksen. Dele Alli’s ego has been this season’s most popular punching bag, though Gareth Bale’s has also been copped a few blows.

Toby Alderweireld, convinced to sign a new four-year deal at the end of 2019, is said to now be looking for an out. The whispers around Son Heung-min don’t need to be taken seriously just yet, but even the mere suggestion that one of the prolific double act is wondering if all this is worth the hassle should cause alarm. What happens when things continue on this downward trajectory?

A respite of sorts is on the horizon with the next three league fixtures against relegation-concerned Burnley, Fulham and Sheffield United which bodes well considering Leeds United (12th) are the only non-bottom six side Spurs have beaten this year. Then comes a north-London derby against an equally tentative Arsenal.

Sat in ninth, those high profile players may wonder if trophies lie elsewhere. Mourinho came with the promise of riches that have yet to come to fruition. Only the Europa League carries any semblance of satisfaction, not just of silverware but their most likely route into the Champions League.

Unlike at Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Manchester United, Mourinho and Spurs’ malaise are starting to feel one of the same. Intertwined like wire headphones in your pocket.

He retains the trust of Harry Kane. But for how long? Kane turns 28 this year, and with the niggles stacking up, his peak will only last for so long. At what point does he start to ponder if he needs to move on to fill that mantlepiece with more than a few player-of-the-month awards and hat-trick balls?

Watching Spurs these last few weeks, you might wonder if this is simply a natural rot. Many of these players have been together for five years and, perhaps, they have exceeded their natural life-cycle. The final 12 months under Mauricio Pochettino indicated a level of restlessness that was laid squarely at the Argentine’s feet.

But aside from the brief uptick this campaign, there is no doubt Mourinho has exacerbated such a malaise. And it’s hard to escape that only distance between the two entities will remedy that.

As such, the question to ask is what will cost more: the severance Daniel Levy must fork out to remove Mourinho or to lose prime assets that will require twice as much to replace adequately? The latter will set the club back by years. The former won’t have any bearing on the man at the centre of it all. After all, none of this is his fault

Blowing

Pedro Mendes and Steve Archibald are supported by Danny Murphy on drums at the Tottenham Hotspur summer barbecue in Daniel Levy’s back garden in the summer of 2018, which, with hindsight, seems a much simpler time…

I guess there’s no shame in getting pasted by City considering the form they’re in at the moment, and even in the happier days of Pochettino’s 2017/18 third-placed Wembley season there was a pre-Christmas 4-1 pasting at The Etihad.

Continue reading “Blowing”

Wolfsberger AC: small-town Austrian team tackling Spurs in Europa League

Austrian upstarts with their own priest aim to surprise José Mourinho’s Tottenham with their high press

David Müller, The Guardian in Wolfsberg

After the Europa League draw in December, Wolfsberger AC took the opportunity to extend a helping hand to their last-32 opponents, Tottenham Hotspur. Posting a picture of José Mourinho and a speech bubble saying, “Can anybody tell me where Wolfsberg is?” they added: “If you can’t find us, we will help you” with a winking emoji and, “Looking forward to seeing you @SpursOfficial”.

Welcome to Wolfsberg, José. This is not Wolfsburg, the German Bundesliga side sponsored and powered by Volkswagen. This is Wolfsberger AC, from the tiny town of Wolfsberg in southern Austria, not far from the Slovenian border. Their most famous supporter is a priest.

That is not to say Tottenham will have an easy game on Thursday in the first leg, moved to Budapest.

The Wolfsberg assistant coach, Mo Sahli, told the Guardian this week that they were approaching the tie with belief rather than apprehension. “Tottenham is the biggest club WAC has ever faced,” he said. “We are well aware of our role as underdogs and know Tottenham are the favourites but every game starts 0-0. We are really looking forward to these games.”

Sahli, who has coached at RB Salzburg and FC Liefering, has been at Wolfsberg since summer 2019 and shot to fame, at least in his native Tunisia, when he became caretaker in November 2019 and the first African manager to gain a point in a European club competition with a 2-2 draw with Roma in the Europa League group stage. He had not fully understood his achievement until he returned home to an outpouring of adulation from local media.

He returned to his role as assistant when the club appointed Ferdinand Feldhofer in December 2019 and this season they have reached the Europa League knockout stage for the first time. Last season they were eliminated at the group stage despite two draws against Roma and a stunning 4-0 win at Borussia Mönchengladbach.

It is a remarkable achievement for WAC (Wolfsberger Athletik Club), which was founded in 1931 but led a quiet life until Dietmar Riegler, a former player turned businessman, became president in 2007, bringing capital and leadership as well as a joining of forces with another local team, SK St Andrä. The ascent was rapid, leading to promotion into the Austrian Bundesliga for the first time in 2013.

After six consecutive years in the top flight, the team finished third in 2019, leading to their first European campaign, and they followed that with another third place. This season they navigated the group stage successfully, finishing above Feyenoord and CSKA Moscow to set up this tie with Spurs.

The team play a rapid and hard-pressing style of football – potentially bad news for Mourinho after he admitted his players were tired after the defeat against Manchester City. Wolfsberg may be without last season’s goalscoring hero, Shon Weissman, who joined Real Valladolid in August, but the captain Michael Liendl has 12 goals this season from his attacking midfield role and Dejan Joveljic, on loan from Eintracht Frankfurt, is the No 10.

But it is not only the players on the pitch whom Spurs come up against. Krzysztof Jacek Kranicki became the club’s official priest at the start of the year, giving him the opportunity to be there “on the ground for both the team and for the fans”, he told meinbezirk.at. It means that fans and players, according to the local bishop, Josef Marketz, “are helped by the love and belief of God and that they can go be brave and full of elan in life as well as the games”.

Kranicki became well known locally as a supporter of the team after ringing the main church bells following the 4-0 victory against Mönchengladbach and celebrating a holy mass at the Vatican for 200 WAC fans who had travelled to watch their club play Roma in 2019.

The club have come a long way in a short time and the games against Tottenham will be another milestone. Whatever happens against Mourinho’s Spurs, WAC have already won.

The Hope’s Just Barely…

It’s not alright, it’s not okay, you might want to look the other way, you shouldn’t try to understand, Tottenham Hotspur’s effect on man….

When Gerry Francis resigned as Spurs Manager in November 1997, one of his coaching staff was reported to have said ‘at least we won’t have to listen to that song anymore’ with that song being ‘we want our Tottenham back’, a chant which had begun to roll down off the terraces with increasing volume and venom as the low-scoring non-event matches stacked up.

Continue reading “The Hope’s Just Barely…”

Something To Chew On

Pre-match entertainment for tonight’s 5th round FA Cup clash with Everton.

A blast from our distant past reporting on our first FA Cup meeting with Everton in the 1st round of the FA Cup on 6th February 1904.

from The Sporting Life, Monday, February 8, 1904

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR, 2: EVERTON, 1.

THE SPURS IN FORM

            The hope of the London district, Tottenham Hotspur, came out on top on Saturday, where they bearded the Everton lion in his den, and came away victorious. The test was, without a shadow of a doubt, the best of the afternoon, and those who saw them run round the Evertonians are loud in their praise of their tactics and ability. The game had all along in Lancashire being regarded as the titbit of the Palatine games, and though the gate was not so large as one might have expected, still it was a good one, and will stand the Spurs in good stead. It was, however, only 20,000, and the amount is not so much as would have been taken at Tottenham. The Spurs had been training in the Southport district, and went over to Liverpool in the middle of the day by the West Coast line, the whole lot under the care of Cameron, the old Evertonian, being in the very best possible order. The Evertonians had been taking their breathings on the North side of the Ribble Estuary, and, like their opponents, arrived in the city about noon in the best of condition and confident of success. But weather and ground were bad, the game being mudlarking pure and simple. The morning opened dull and murky, and finally broke away into a regular soaker. The ground had got a gruelling in the middle of the week, and the downpour did not mend it at all – it was simply a quagmire. The Spurs had a decent following, several excursions being run from Tottenham. Booth led his men into a rousing accompaniment, the Spurs coming out a minute afterwards. No time was wasted in starting, Ruth beating Jones in the spin of the coin. J. Jones and Hughes conceded free kicks in the first minute, and from the second of these Booth made a fine attempt to score, the ball just topping the bar. Fouls were fashionable, and now it was Wolstenholme’s turn. From the free kick Kirwan ran and centred finely, Woodward calling upon Balmer to effect a glorious clearance. The excitement visibly increased, and the Spurs were certainly moving in prime fashion. Crelly was passed by Warner, and the latter centred splendidly to Kirwan, who missed the ball and

            A RARE SCORING CHANCE AT THE SAME TIME.

Sharp made a big effort to pull his forwards together, but in a long run with Tait the latter just succeeded to tipping the ball out of danger. Offside spoiled both Settle and Corrin. The players paid no heed to the drenching downpour, but some of them experienced great difficulty in preserving the equilibrium. Hughes fouled Taylor, but J. L. Jones covered the discrepancy. The Spurs’ attacking brigade worked with a better understanding than did their opponents and Woodward plied both wings very judiciously. However, Everton hereabouts worked in smarter fashions, and both Settle and Taylor were only knocked off the ball in the nick of time. Kirwan outwitted his rival backs neatly, and transferred to Copeland, who brought Kitchen out of goal with a capital cross shot. Kitchen came to effect a thorough clearance, ran out some distance to kick away. Settle lost the ball rather foolishly consequent upon over-elaboration, and the Everton goal was endangered thereby. The play up to now had been very much in favour of the Londoners, who time after time got

            GOING IN POWERFUL FASHION.

            When the first half was three-quarters over the first goal had still to come. It was not long, however. The Spurs halves and backs tackled almost unerringly, and whatever there was to enthuse in attack generally emanated from the visiting vanguard. Woodward – considered mum too robust — played with surprising dash on the heavy ground. Judgement was writ large, too, in most that he attempted. His dribbling was fine, and he here proved so troublesome to Abbott that the latter perforce failed the amateur gently, but the free kick worked off harmlessly. Everton dashed to the Tottenham end, and in saving a time sort of shot settle compelled Williams to lose his grip and a corner ensued, which was cleared. Abbott again failed Woodward, and from the free kick Kitchen conceded a corner. This was finally placed by Warner, and kitchen, rushing out, missed the ball, Woodward heading a lovely goal — this after thirty minutes’ play. Just previously Kitchen had saved well from Copeland, who was unwittingly given the ball by booth. Stung by the reverse, Everton played up, and Corrin went very close with a long dropping effort. more trouble was in store for Everton as the visiting forwards again menaced, and J. Jones sending in the capital shot was gratified to see Balmer just turned the ball through his own goal. Had Balmer not attempted a clearance kitchen would have had little difficulty in clearing the ball. in the ensuing play Everton seldom looked like making up their leeway. just on the interval Everton made a big effort to put a better complexion on the game. Settle, Taylor, and McDermott each tested Williams, but the custodian refused to be beaten. Half-time : Tottenham Hotspur, two goals : Everton, nil.

             The ‘Spurs Had a lot of the best of the first half, but in the second the Evertonians played better, and though the visitors’ halves and backs were again in the best of trim they were often are in trouble then before. Everton tried the rushing game for a time, but the ‘Spurs were equally lively, and refused to be caught napping. Their defenders fairly revelled in breaking up the Toffees’ attack. A sign of weakness, too, was the frequent fouling of the visitors by the Blues. A fine burst away by Woodward placed the Everton defence on tenter-hooks, who passed Crelly and so hustled Balmer that the latter was constrained to pass back to Kitchen, who had to run out. Fortunately, no mishap occurred, but a minute later Woodward missed scoring by a miracle, when he had only kitchen to beat. Tottenham’s goal was the scene of a desperate struggle. Williams was plied with all manner of shots, and his saves from both McDermott and Booth were brilliant in the extreme. Several corners fell to the Blues, but Williams came out on top every time. From a centre by Corrin , Sharp missed the chance of the match, the little man missing the ball by inches when it required only a tap to put it through. With only fifteen minutes to go Everton had not yet scored. They made their effort, but it was not until a couple of minutes from the close that they had their reward. Crelly was fouled, and the ball being worked well forward, Watson scored a fine goal. The crowd went frantic, but the goal had surely come too late, and despite Everton’s giant efforts, the whistle went with the Southerners winning by two goals to one. Referee, Mr Ward (Nottingham). Teams :-

            EVERTON.—Kitchen (goal), Ralmer [sic] and Crelley (backs), Wolstenholme, Booth, and Abbott (half-backs), Sharp, Taylor, Settle, McDermott, and Corrin.

            TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR.—Williams (goal), Watson and Tait (backs), Morris, Hughes, and J. L. Jones (half-backs), Warner, J. Jones, V. J. Woodward, Copeland, and Kirwan.

COYS!

José Mourinho’s rigid thinking brings zombified display from Tottenham

By Barney Ronay, The Guardian

With three minutes still to play at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium and the score 1-0 to Chelsea – as it had been for what felt like at least a fortnight – something odd happened to Carlos Vinícius. He had a chance to score a goal. Serge Aurier delivered a fine cross from the right. Vinícius leapt well, wrenched his neck and made contact.

Spurs had woken up late in this game. Flustered, eyes still gummed shut, this drained and listing group of players had finally made it to the table. A point would have been a sensational return, even against a Chelsea team that had also faded.

Instead the header from Vinícius drifted past the post. And there was at least a kind of justice in this. Spurs didn’t really deserve it. José Mourinho, who from the start set his tyro centre-forward the task of playing just like prime Harry Kane, certainly didn’t deserve it.

Oh, José. For the first half of this weirdly gripping Premier League game it seemed Chelsea’s players were being set an unexpected philosophical conundrum. Never mind trying to win a match against active opponents. How do you kill that which was never really alive in the first place? How do you put away a team that comes pre-put away?

For 45 minutes Tottenham Hotspur were a zombified thing, barely an active participant. Throughout this Mourinho paced his touchline, hood draped limply over his shoulders. He looked concerned, bothered but not really cross or angry – and rightly so. Anger is best reserved for something that can be corrected. These Spurs players didn’t just look short of confidence, they looked like an army sent into battle with a baguette in one hand and a map etched in invisible ink in the other.

It was all the more galling that Tottenham improved significantly after half-time simply by playing higher up the pitch, doing football-type things. By that point 45 minutes of everyone’s life had already been and gone. Football isn’t about waiting for the other person to die of boredom, a wise man once said. This looked, in those opening moments, like a team bored with itself.

Mourinho picked his best available 11 here, with no departure from that meat-and-potatoes 4-2-3-1. So yes: the same formation as every other week, but with your main man replaced by one of the least proven members of your squad. Is this a good idea?

Why play a system that involves funnelling the ball through the centre forward every time, Harry Kane-style, when the centre forward is no longer Harry Kane? Why ask Vinícius to do everything, when he’s just learning how to do the main thing?

This was hyper-rigid stuff from Mourinho,who might have tried some other shape to fit his personnel, but instead simply sent out Spurs as a slightly worse Spurs, with half of the two-man attacking plan absent. Early on Vinícius was sent striding forward on the break with Son Heung-min haring off to one side, Steven Bergwijn the other. He almost fell over his feet trying to work out what to do.

Understandably so. This is not a criticism of Vinícius, it is a criticism of Mourinho, of ossified thinking, of setting a near-impossible task then looking baffled when it turns out to be, you know, quite difficult.

But this is where we are now with this deflating entity. From the start Tottenham dropped instantly into that neurotically deep defensive block. They managed something amazing early on, succeeding in being outnumbered both in the centre and down the flanks at the same time.

Ben Davies was repeatedly overrun by Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James. And Chelsea were awarded a penalty. Nothing about this was surprising. It came down Chelsea’s right. It came because Spurs were playing so deep every exchange was taking place in or around their own area.

Timo Werner made a fine run out to that side, and then simply allowed Eric Dier to thrash around on the grass in front of him. For what felt like an eternity Dier waggled his legs in the air, like an upturned beetle awaking from uneasy dreams to find itself transformed into a Tottenham centre-back.

Eventually the opportunity to fall over arrived. Werner took it. Jorginho tucked the kick away. And by half-time Spurs had played an entirely inert 45 minutes. For Chelsea this must have felt like dancing with a corpse.

What could Mourinho do to alter this? The full-backs started higher up the pitch. The players ran forward a little harder (as in: they actually ran forward). A little later than scheduled, something that looked like a game of football broke out. Spurs had chances, although they might also have gone further behind. In the end they got what they deserved: no goals, no attacking plan, and only that late trapped energy to prove there was life here at all.