Gary Neville believes that Jose Mourinho has managed to innovate an old tactic that he used at Manchester United, which has been one of the main reasons for Tottenham’s success so far this season.
Tottenham were not given much of a chance of finishing in the top four at the start of the season but ten games into the campaign, the Lilywhites are sitting at the summit of the top flight and pundits are starting to take them seriously as potential title contenders.
Spurs have shown this season that they can win games in different ways, as they have blown teams away with their attacking quality in some matches while remaining defensively solid and showing an ability to prey on the opposition’s mistakes in others.
Neville admitted that Mourinho has tweaked the system he used at Manchester United where he often asked his wide attackers to tuck in to make it a back six in big games.
The former Manchester United defender told Sky Sports: “I recall a game when he was Manchester United manager against Liverpool, and I came away thinking that I couldn’t watch United playing this way.
“Mourinho effectively went with a back six and it was desperate to watch. I went away thinking ‘United need to have more than that’.
“I know Liverpool were the better team and United were in a dip, but they had to bring more than that. It didn’t feel very innovative or modern.
“The problem with that is that United couldn’t get their counter-attacks going when the two wide players were so deep. Jose played a non-dominant style of football.”
Neville believes that by asking Moussa Sissoko and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg to double up in the wide areas, Mourinho is still able to defend with six players at the back but his Spurs side are much better equipped to counter swift when they win the ball back.
He added: “He still wants the defensive stability. He still wants the clean sheet, and I don’t think he wholly trusts his back four at Tottenham but you look at this Spurs team now, with Moussa Sissoko and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg screening, and you’ve still got a back six [as he had for United against Liverpool] but there are big differences.
“Firstly, the position of Harry Kane is a lot deeper to Zlatan Ibrahimovic into a place that’s difficult to pick up. Secondly, and the most important thing, is that Son [Heung-Min] and [Steven] Bergwijn are near to him.
“Rather than the two nearest players to Zlatan being [Ander] Herrera and [Paul] Pogba – the two central midfielders – now Jose has the right players still in advanced positions to counter-attack quickly.
“It’s a subtle change but it’s the same system as before in a different way. It is far more palatable and it’s easier on the eye as you’ve still got the attacking players in attacking positions. Jose has adapted, and he’s got the balance of being good defensively with the threat on the counter-attack.
“I feel he has to play this way to have a chance of winning the title because I don’t think his back four is strong enough without two players beefing it up. They will be a massive threat to most teams and Jose has a plan on how to win the league this season.”
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