When José Mourinho took over from Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham Hotspur in November 2019, he took over a team that was 14th in the table and were struggling to put any sort of winning form together. The loss in the Champions League final against Liverpool only a few months before was taking its toll, and it seemed as if the Pochettino clock had run its course. Mourinho has come in and brought stability to the club, especially on the pitch. They have managed to climb up the table and obtained a sixth-placed finish, meaning they will play Europa League football next season, given that they win the qualifying rounds. The Tottenham Hotspur squad itself is easily worth being in the champions league, however, given how badly they started the season finishing it in sixth place classes as a half-decent season. The football, at times, has not been great and Spurs fans are demanding a more attacking style of play given the attacking talent they possess. As we look at a preview for next season, we will look at how this could potentially be obtained.
In terms of next season, UEFA Champions League qualification has to be the primary objective for Mourinho and his Spurs squad. The 2020/21 season is very similar to his first season at Manchester United, 2016/17, whereby they were in the Europa League and won it to grab Champions League qualification. In this season, United’s league form was very poor, however, the Portuguese tactician managed to pull United to Europa League victory, which he may aim to do this upcoming season with Spurs. Of course, getting Champions League football through the league will be the objective, however, the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, Leicester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Arsenal will also be looking to strengthen and be in these places. The Europa League, therefore, maybe another alternative to getting Champions League football. Mourinho has improved them a lot in many areas, however, he still needs to work on certain aspects for them to be able to achieve this, as will be discussed.
This tactical analysis will look at Mourinho’s tactics thus far at Spurs and the scout report will be split up into two sections, what he has done well with them this season which they can build from and what they need to improve. The analysis will cover this as well as looking at potential personal changes which could help them achieve their objectives.
Aspects to build from
The most obvious aspect of improvement that Spurs have made under Mourinho is through their counter-attacking ability. Under Pochettino they were a team that enjoyed possession and would score goals through possession and using spaces coupled with intricate passes. Mourinho, as he has done throughout his career, introduced a counter-attacking style into the Spurs team which is often coupled with the low-block. The wide player’s Spurs have, the likes of Lucas Moura, Steven Bergwijn and Son Heung-Min being the main options, have benefited from this massively and have shown excellent signs of adaptation to Mourinho’s new style of play. Dele Alli and Harry Kane have also adapted to this and the Spurs attacking line are well suited to play in this way. As mentioned, Spurs will often sit deep and look to break on the counter-attack whenever they get the opportunity to do so. This allows these sorts of attacking players to get into more goal scoring opportunities and it has been shown in their goal tallies. Harry Kane has 18 goals, Son has 11 and Alli managed to get eight. These are just three examples of players that are scoring goals at a high rate due to this new systematic change.
Below is a typical example of Spurs on the counter-attack. We can see them creating a numerical advantage due to the sheer amount of bodies they can get forward. Son is eventually able to score from this position to give Spurs the lead, which highlights the effectiveness of them playing this system. Moving forward into next season, maintaining this and being more clinical will be important.
An interesting statistic which highlights how Spurs have played on the counter-attack is to look at the amount of through balls that they have played over the season. Throughout the 2019/20 season, they played 79 through balls which were only bettered by Manchester City who played 85. City plays a completely different type of through ball using triangles In build-up play to the strengths of their attacking players. The type of through ball Spurs often play is through the middle and towards the goal with the likes of Kane and Son making runs through the defensive line to attempt to score. This is Mourinho’s counter-attacking system in full effect which he tried to deploy at Manchester United, however, it could be said that it did not suit the players that they had at that time. At Spurs, it is slightly different, as they have players that are well suited for this system and have shown this many times this season.
In terms of next season, improving on this will be key. One of the main components of a successful counter-attacking team is to have an excellent low-block and be very solid at the back. Spurs have not been able to find this often enough, as will be discussed further and have an ageing defence which is not reliable. Improving in defensive areas could, therefore, give much more stability to the attacking players knowing that they have a solid defensive line behind them.
Below is another example of Spurs counter-attacking. We can see the sorts of runs that the attacking players are making which allows them to get into good positions from which they are likely to score. Spurs have excellent mobile attacking players which allow them to counter-attack at pace, which they should look to continue going into next season.
Another aspect of Spurs game that has improved since the introduction of Mourinho, which may seem complex before analysis is the idea of the central players being able to find more space. As mentioned earlier, Spurs have played 79 through balls this season which fits into their counter-attacking narrative, however, it is also because the central players such as Harry Winks, Alli, and Giovani Lo Celso have been finding a lot more space in attacking areas. This has many benefits for Spurs when they are looking to attack teams that have a rigid defensive structure and play with a deep line. Spurs have a vast number of players that are quite similar in the centre of midfield. The likes of Alli all enjoy touches of the ball and playing quick passes which allow others to get involved in the game. To couple this, Kane often drops deep which allows the wider players to come more to the inside which allows the full-backs to make runs forward. This is a systematic change that Mourinho has introduced which has often allowed these attacking players to find more space.
The best way to show this is through an example. Below is an excellent example from Spurs’ 3-2 away victory at West Ham in Mourinho’s first game in charge. We can see Winks on the ball and Alli finding himself in huge amounts of space where he is found and can turn and create a chance on goal. Mourinho’s whole idea when joining Spurs was to get these attacking players into more space and allow them to have a better chance of creating chances. The likes of Alli and Lo Celso were struggling a lot under the last few months of Pochettino’s reign; however, these sorts of players have managed to turn around their form dramatically as a result of the management change.
This aspect of Spurs’ game could be best described as pragmatic by Mourinho as he has identified where they are strong and has looked to build on it. At Manchester United, it could be said that he tried too hard to change their style of play from Louis Van Gaal who played a completely different brand of football. As a result, the United players were not ready for such a dramatic shift in tactics and suffered a lot from this switch. It could be said that Spurs have made a similar switch, in terms of a massive change of styles when it comes to managers. However, Spurs have very good players which Mourinho has been able to mould in his vision of how Spurs should play. The spatial awareness they now possess is evidence of this.
This is also useful in counter-attacking situations, whereby finding the right space is vital to hurt the opposition in key areas.
As mentioned, the likes of Lo Celso and Alli have benefited a lot from playing this sort of role and they have been able to find space in the key areas a lot of the time. For these players, finding space is vital to be able to have the freedom to create in attacking areas. As we look to next season, continuing this will be vital for Spurs If they are to have success going forward in attacking areas.
Below Is another example of the Spurs players being able to find space when going forward into the opposition half. We can see Son, Alli and others making good runs forward into space which is eventually found and Spurs have a chance to score. This has been an improvement by Spurs and if they could continue this whilst adding a few other players to help with this process they have every chance of a successful season.
We have discussed what Mourinho has done well at Spurs and what they can build on for next season, however, what is also vital to acknowledge is that despite their jump from 14th to 6th, they should generally be doing a lot better than this considering the quality of their squad. To put it very simply, Spurs have to be better defensively if they are to have a chance of moving up the table next season. Mourinho is an excellent coach when it comes to defending and Spurs have kept clean sheets against the likes of Manchester City which shows encouragement. However, they have made basic mistakes at times which have meant that they have dropped silly points which in turn has prevented them from moving up the table. They have only kept eight clean sheets which are only worsened by Aston Villa, West Ham, Bournemouth and Norwich City, two of which have been relegated. It Is fair to say that Spurs’ back four is not the same as it was when they were at their best with Kyle Walker, Toby Alderwield, Jan Vertonghen and Danny Rose. The current Spurs defensive setup screams one of instability and one that is screaming out for reinforcements in this area.
The general structure of Spurs’ defence is not the main problem. The problem is that they have players playing in these defensive positions that make key mistakes at key times which leads to goals against them. This is a problem for the, as by conceding goals they are likely to lose games and have to score a large number of goals to recover the game. This is an aspect Mourinho needs to work on and players will likely come in to help this problem that they are currently facing. Spurs in the past few seasons have been excellent at the back and a return to this is needed urgently.
Below is an example of this from their 3-1 away loss at Sheffield United earlier in the season. We can see the Sheffield United players completely free near the edge of the box which allows them to score. This example of poor marking is evidence of why Spurs need to sign players at the back or find solutions to these problems if they are to have success going into next season. Mourinho will have to do this through structural adjustments or personal changes, the likelihood is that both will occur.
When Mourinho was at his final few months as United manager, he went on the record saying that they were not very good at defending against counter-attacks. This could very much be said of this Spurs team which links into their defensive problems. When Spurs move forward against teams that sit back, they always seem like they are going to concede from counter-attacks. This, as will be discussed, could be linked to the fact that they sit very deep In a low-block and are not used to teams breaking through them. Two games stick out. One was a 3-2 home defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers and the other was a 3-1 away loss at Sheffield United. In both these games, Spurs got hit with some deadly counter-attacks which meant they suffered a lot when it comes to goals conceded. This, therefore, is an area which needs improving if they are to find stability in defensive areas for the upcoming season. They need to have a balance when chasing a game and attacking with proper defending and not allowing counter-attacks.
Below is an example of this from the 3-2 home defeat to Wolves. We can see Wolves have three attacking players coming forward which is only matched by three Spurs players. This is not the worst position to be in, however, the positions they take up are not good ones which allows the ball to be played in behind which eventually leads to a goal. This is an excellent example of how Spurs get caught out in these positions and it highlights a change that is required. Without the low-block, Spurs are in trouble and solutions must be found.
To conclude, it is clear to see that there is an excellent bedrock for Spurs to build on for next season. Despite there being quite a few defensive aspects that need work, it is clear that their attacking structure and the improvements they have made going forward put them in a good position for next season. Personal and structural changes most certainly need to be changed at the back, however, it is clear to see that Mourinho has an excellent squad to work with. It is clear that players will come in and players will leave, however, the structural changes that Mourinho has made needs to be executed properly for his project to work. His main problem at Manchester United was that the vision and plan that he put in place was not followed through and not accepted by the players. He cannot afford to have such a problem at Spurs and will need to make adjustments to keep the players on side. This being said, the players also need to improve as sixth for a squad such as Spurs is very unrepresentative of their actual potential. Spurs are a team to keep an eye on for next season.