There’s a whiff of deja vu in heading to Brighton following a soul-sapping mid-week home defeat, our 2-7 humbling at the hands of Bayern preceding last season’s jolly boys’ beano to the south coast of England, which was anything but jolly and probably prompted Levy to start flirting in earnest with Jose.
Although it’s tempting to be ultra pessimistic following a defeat like the one we suffered against Liverpool on Thursday, I’m going to pretend I’ve retained an element of perspective by saying I felt the first half was okay right up until they got their maddening injury-time breakthrough: Although we’d given them a few chances and it felt as if the game was starting to get away from us around the time Thiago crocked Kane on thirty-three minutes, we’d been a VAR whisper from going one up in that frenetic opening spell, and we’d also worked another opening Son really should have done better with, plus had a few situations where a better final ball would also have seen us in on goal.
Although we looked far from impressive defensively ourselves, Liverpool really looked there for the taking through the middle of their defence during that first half hour. Had we gone in at nil-nil with Kane’s ankles intact, I’d have been fairly happy with what I’d seen.
Which just makes the inept level of defending on display either side of half-time and then the general clueless gutlessness of the second-half display all the more harder to take: Even when Hojbjerg scored that absolute screamer, it felt like an exercise in futility, simply raising hopes so subsequent goals could crush them again, which they did, even the one VAR chalked off for Firmino’s handball: From the moment he and Dier wrestled each other for possession, the ease with which Liverpool turned a two v four in the centre of the park on 2:08 of the following lowlights reel to a three man overload down our right flank within seven seconds is an absolute master-class in how to defend like a bunch of complete mugs.
The fact there was some sort or row with Aurier at half-time doesn’t excuse the complete lack of focus the team showed from the re-start, either, and I don’t buy it that the argument distracted Mourinho given he was out on the pitch talking to Winks and Lamela long before the rest of the team re-emerged.
I also don’t get our starting shape, which genuinely seemed to involve Doherty playing as a left winger rather than as a wing-back – definitely in the first half, when Mane breaks free in the first minute following an Aurier mistake and then when he gets free again to set up the opener, we’re lined up as a flat back-four with Aurier tucked in and Doherty further forward: In this first screenshot showing the build-up to Mane’s missed chance, Doherty is nowhere to be seen, with Davies in a traditional left-back position, and in the second one, as Mane gets away to set up Firmino’s opener, he’s closer to Thiago than Salah.
All in all, this is probably the most gutting of a fair few gutting defeats now under Mourinho, and the questions are really starting to stack up over how the squad is being managed, with something that’s really started to bother me since I saw Doherty named as left wing-back being the treatment of Danny Rose and the way Mourinho and Levy mugged him off in the Amazon Prime documentary and how he’s become persona non grata ever since.
Our 30 year old one time England international left-back must have sat at home on his £60k a week contract watching Matt Doherty and Ben Davies and the rest of our back five get taken apart by a team who’d scored one goal in five before we came along to apply the balm and laughed his head off.
Or maybe he was too busy on Google, trying to find out what Dele Alli is up to these days.
In what other industry would a chairman and manager who’d allowed that situation to develop be looked upon as a success?
What’s going to be interesting now is how Mourinho handles Aurier going forwards, whether he’s still got the backing of players he’s left on the fringes such as Bale, Moura, Dele, and how he tries to handle being without Kane: Will he place any trust in Vinicius or will we see Doherty up front?
It’s also going to be interesting to see how the team reacts to this loss. To be fair to them, the horror-show at Sheffield United last season was followed with an unbeaten run to the end of the season, and the collapse against West Ham which cost us two points was followed with a real tightening up at the back and an ascent to the top of the table until the cautiousness that result prompted really began to cost us: Even with the ease of Liverpool’s three goals from open play and the general lack of confidence most of us have in our defenders’ ability to not collectively shoot themselves in the foot no matter who Mourinho’s selected to play, we’ve still somehow got the joint second best defensive record in the division, with only Manchester City conceding fewer so far: Win today, with Liverpool and West Ham facing each other, and we could be right back in the mix for top four, and even stumbling Manchester United won’t look too far away as the agonizing drip-drip of hope starts to trickle again.
Lose in the manner we did in this game last season, though, and I think we might be about to see the Mourinho third season implosion come about a season earlier than usual, with Chelsea’s visit on Thursday representing a real battle of the what might have beens considering we were first and they were third the last time we faced each other only eleven match-weeks ago.
I genuinely hope it doesn’t come to that. Win today against a Brighton team whose three Premier League wins so far this season have all come away from home, beat Chelsea on Thursday to inflict Tottenham fan Tuchel’s first taste of defeat at the helm of the oily blues, and last Thursday’s team selection and the abject second-half display can be put down to simply being one of those things that sometimes happens when you employ an inexperienced but promising up and coming manager on a pitiful £15 million a year and then don’t back him fully in the transfer market…
Come on you Spurs!