Opinion: Reviewing Jose Mourinho’s impact and the future at Spurs

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Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Dom Le Roy

Mourinho was appointed as manager of Spurs on the 20th of November 2019 (BBC). Almost 10 months later, the 19/20 season ends. A lot has happened, but this report looks to breakdown Mourinho’s Spurs Premier League campaign focusing on the positives, negatives, and what the future holds.

The Arrival

Mauricio Pochettino was sacked on the 19th of November 2019 (BBC), Spurs were in 14th place having accumulated 14 points from 12 games. They were closer to Norwich (20th – 7 points) than Manchester City (4th – 25 points) (Whoscored.com). The previous 10 games contained high profile losses to Colchester, conceding 7 against Bayern Munich at home and losing 3-0 to Brighton, the club was in downfall despite reaching the Champions League final in June. (Sky Sports)

Despite spending almost £400m [£394.362m] (transfermarkt) on 26 players, Pochettino failed to deliver any silverware during his five-year spell at the club. Daniel Levy appointed the man who has lifted 25 trophies (transfermarkt), winning at least two trophies across each of his respective former clubs in Jose Mourinho.

Jose Mourinho is tasked with converting a ‘good’ side into a winning side, which is reflected in the comments of Lucas Moura.

The Brazilian told the Daily Mail: ‘Each coach has a different mentality. He always talks to us, he tries to put in our mentality that we are strong, that we are a big club, that we are winners. ‘He tries to put this mentality in us and then afterwards, tactically, step by step, his philosophy. But especially he wants to put this mentality — a strong mentality, winners — in us and that we can win.’ 

Indicating the attempted culture shift Mourinho’s implementing at Spurs, but how exactly have Spurs change since his arrival?

Since Mourinho’s arrival on the 20th of November, Spurs are the fourth best team in the league with 45 points behind the Premier League Champions (Liverpool) 65 points, Manchester City 56 points & Manchester United the highest spenders in the Premier league this season with 50 points.(whoscored.com)

Mourinho’s system

One of Mourinho’s strengths throughout his career has been his system and shape versatility, but Jose’s always used a ‘base system’ and then adapting where necessary. At Spurs, Mourinho’s use of the 4-2-3-1 is well documented and can be regarded as the formation for Mourinho’s ‘base system’. During the large portion of his early tenure, we saw what can be described as the ‘pendulum’ 4-2-3-1 due to the positioning of Serge Aurier. Spurs very much looked to defend with 4 defenders but built with 3.

Resulting in a 3-2-4-1 formation during attack, it played out in the following manner:

During build-up, Davies would form part of the back 3, while Aurier would occupy the right winger position.

Aurier would form part of the 4 behind Harry Kane. Son would occupy the wide left position leaving Alli and Lucas in central positions.

As analysed previously (LINK), this led to problems with the attack becoming too lob-sided with emphasis on creation from the right, this often meant limited passing options on the LHS.

Forcing the attack becoming too narrow. Recently, as a solution we saw an alteration to the offensive structure with Davies occupying more advanced positions providing a further passing option and increasing the potential passing network.


Although Mourinho is very structured in his defensive and build-up structure (analysed above) once the ball is in the final third, Mourinho encourages the players to innovate with no ‘set’ attacking patterns or combinations. As a result of the offensive structure, ball possession ends up at Serge Aurier. Serge Aurier has second most touches for Spurs this season behind (Alderweireld), but more notably Aurier has second-most touches in the attacking 3rd with 680 (only Son (691) has more). (FBRef)

This has yielded relatively successful results, since Mourinho’s arrival only 3 teams have scored more goals than Spurs (43), Manchester United (50), Manchester City (67) and Liverpool (57) (Whoscored.com). This is even more impressive considering Harry Kane + Son missed 14 + 6 games respectively (all competitions) this season with the duo having 41 goals and assists combined between them. (whoscored.com)

An arguably even more important factor to consider is the departure of Eriksen, since Eriksen’s debut (till departure):
– No player has more assists (62)
– No player has created more chances (571)
– Only KDB (84) has created more big chances than Eriksen (73)
– No player has more goals from outside the box (23)
– No player has more direct free-kick goals (8)

(Squawka.com)

But going forward, this is an area for Spurs to address, since Eriksen’s departure rank they sixth for goals scored in the league; scoring 23 goals from 14 games Further stats indicating Eriksen’s impact (whoscored.com):

Reduction in shots per game (12.17 to 10.5)
Reduction in shots on target (4.375 to 3.571)
Reduction in expected goals [xG] (1.32 to 1.06)
(Note 1- Goals scored per game went up)
(Note 2 – The post-Eriksen period overlaps with injuries to Son + Kane)

(FBref.com)

Something for Jose and the hierarchy to address moving forward.

But a clear sign of Jose’s impact on the squad is demonstrated by the number of touches and possession held by Spurs. In Pochettino’s twelve Premier League games this season, Spurs averaged 55.75% possession averaging 676 touches in comparison in Mourinho’s 26 PL games Spurs have averaged 52 touches per game fewer (624) holding 50.38% possession. (FBRef.com)

Resulting in a more ‘counter-attacking’ approach, only 2 teams Liverpool (11) and Leicester (9) have scored more counter-attacking goals than Spurs (8) this season (Premier League) Rather than aiming to control the ball. The aim is on controlling the game by controlling the space.

This is where Jose’s ability to organise arrives, Mourinho has two distinctive features in his defensive organisation.

1) As the opposition build-up in the first phase, Mourinho opts for a passive medium block but the key feature here is the man to man marking often blocking passes into key midfielders deterring build-up for the opposition.


2) The second is a compact low block often in the 4-2-3-1/4-4-1-1 This differs from Pochettino’s high pressing front foot approach, presented in the pressing stats. In the 18/19 campaign, Spurs averaged 36 presses in the attacking 3rd which is greater than Mourinho’s average of 30.46 and as expected Mourinho’s Spurs side have greater pressures in the defensive (60.3 vs 52) and Middle 3rd (73.87 vs 67.68) (FBref.com)

On surface level Spurs’ defensive record doesn’t look too impressive following Mourinho’s arrival. They have conceded 5th fewest goals 30 with Wolves (25), Manchester United (24), Liverpool (23) and Manchester City (22) conceding fewer (whoscored.com). But in comparison to the first 12 games of the season an improvement exists defensively across all metrics.

Selected Defensive stats (MP’s 12 games vs JM’s 26 games)
• Cleansheets 1 – 7
• Goals per game 1.42 – 1.15
• Shots against 14.8 – 13.58
• Shots on target against per game 5.83 – 3.9
• NpxG 1.37 – 1.18

(FBRef.com)

Presenting an improvement albeit very slight at this stage. An area for improvement is defensive midfield. At times the defensive unit has looked poorer than it seems due to the lack of protection.

Hojbjerg

On many occasions’ opposition attackers have been able to attack the backline having received the ball in lots of space.  This is where the likely acquisition of Hojbjerg can be very useful.

(FBRef.com)

The above graph illustrates the number of tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes Hojbjerg quite clearly the front runner. Hojbjerg’s defensive midfield instincts can really reduce the defensive burden on the back 4 but at the same time reduce the duties of the midfielders and attackers in front of him.

Line-ups for next season

Going forward, I would choose the following line-ups. Mourinho is very scenario-driven hence expect different formations for different opposition.

In the bigger games (top 6) or tough away games the 4-3-3 needs to be used. On occasions, we’ve seen Spurs’ midfield being overrun and overloaded with ease using the midfield two.

(3v1 created in wide areas)

Using the midfield three this allows for better shielding of the back four preventing situations inside the final third where the midfield is outnumbered. But this also reduces the defensive burden on the attackers as the extra central midfielder can prevent easy wide overloads which we saw occur through the use of the midfield pivot.

My line-up for the bigger games: (Assuming the squad stays the same but with the inclusion of Hojbjerg)

Lloris
Aurier – Sanchez – Dier – Davies
Ndombele/Sissoko – Hojbjerg – Lo Celso
Lucas – Kane – Son

For the games Spurs are expected to win, here is where the 4-2-3-1 can be useful to allow five attack-minded players. A big debate exists around who should occupy the number 10 role but based on statistics one clear front runner exists.

(FBref.com)

Dele Alli. Despite the many debates over his impact, his output cannot be questioned. Only Son and Kane have a greater G+A – PK per 90 minutes for Spurs. (Goals + assists removing any penalties averaged 0ver 90 minutes), also Alli has the joint second highest non-penalty expected goals and expected assists per 90 minutes indicating how important he is to the team.

Hence, I would include him in any games Spurs are ‘expected to win’ to provide further firepower to the front line.

Lloris
Aurier – Sanchez – Dier – Davies
Ndombele – Hojbjerg
Lucas – Alli – Son
Kane

With Mourinho’s celebration post Palace, it’s very likely Mourinho will target the Europa League in his first full season at Spurs.

We’ve seen sign slow signs of Mourinho’s strategy and direction being implemented on this team particularly in the bigger games.

In his 26 Premier League games, Mourinho matched the number of wins Pochettino managed in the whole of 18/19 (2) (Skysports.com). But with the Europa League likely to be given priority this may hinder the league position however with Spurs trophy-less since 2008, this will provide a perfect opportunity for Spurs to mark the beginning of the new era. The Mourinho era.

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