Jose Mourinho’s tactics very nearly worked in Tottenham’s game against Liverpool at the weekend. If Giovani Lo Celso or Son Heung-min had converted late chances, they would have been just the second team in the last 30 games to stop Jurgen Klopp’s men from winning.
And yet, the way Spurs approached the game in the first half didn’t really suggest that he thought this was a game between two big teams, rather that the Tottenham side who reached the Champions League final last season were plucky underdogs who could only limit the damage.
So do those late chances vindicate Mourinho, or should he have been more adventurous?
“Mourinho would contend the team are not physically able to put pressure on or open up tactically too early,” said Rafa Honigstein on this Monday’s super early Totally Football Show.
“The problem with this approach is that if you play results football without the results, what’s left? Not a lot. I think that because it’s Liverpool and because they’ve beaten everyone, you can probably get away with that performance. But it doesn’t strike me as a particularly attractive and viable option going forwards.
“There is a theory that the reason Mourinho’s teams haven’t really clicked as well in recent years, is that his idea of being passive, at least in the bigger games, no longer really cuts it in a league where teams don’t necessarily make these mistakes in the build-up or give it away in difficult areas. Although in this case Liverpool did a couple of times and could have been punished.
“But I’m not convinced. I’m also not convinced that players want to play that way,. If you’re at Spurs, if you feel this is the right place to further your career and win stuff, and you want to be one of the stars, then your coach asks you to play without the ball for long spells – I don’t think it’s a sustainable way of doing things, and I think there’s an inherent conflict that could come to the surface.”
Anton Toloui agreed, and thought it spoke to a disconnect between the club and their manager.
“Mauricio Pochettino always had an eye on what the long-term project was. Daniel Levy has effectively shaken hands with the tactical devil, ultimate pragmatism, short-termism. Are they going to have to go big, get rid of some players and bring in others in the next two windows and go again? Or are we going to see a team with a lack of identity, like we saw with Manchester United towards the end?
“They’re close to signing Gedson Fernandes, who’s a deep-lying playmaker. They need a striker, that’s their priority, but they wouldn’t have been planning on that going into January: they would have been quite happy just relying on Harry Kane with Son and Lucas Moura as back-ups.
“It being Jose Mourinho, he’s always got his eye on another holding midfielder, and he’s always got his eye on another centre-back as well. But Tottenham don’t want to go through windows where they sign four or five players, and for me that’s where there’s a conflict – it seems like the manager and the way the club is run, the two don’t seem to marry at the moment.”
The Totally Football Show is now out first thing on Monday mornings: you can listen to the latest edition here, and even better you can subscribe here. If you wish to reproduce any of the material in this article or from the podcast you are very welcome to, but please credit The Totally Football Show and include this link.