Comparing Jose Mourinho’s first Tottenham starting XI to his last
Jose Mourinho is no longer the Tottenham manager. Such a decision, especially when it comes six days before a League Cup final, will certainly raise a few eyebrows.
But it’s a move a good portion of the fanbase have wanted Daniel Levy to make for a while given Spurs’ dire displays and equally poor results over the past few months.
Mourinho was brought in to fire Spurs to silverware and restore them to the Champions League. Though there was still a chance of a trophy, Tottenham went crashing out of the Europa League, their Premier League form has them headed towards the 2021-2022 Europa Conference League qualifying stages and, on the Monday after what will forever be known as the Dulux dog weekend, Mourinho paid the price.
Now, the question of what lasting mark Mourinho made on the club is there to be discussed. To see how the Portuguese boss put his stamp on playing style, formation and personnel, we have compared his first starting XI from the the 3-2 away win over West Ham on 22 November 2019 to his last starting XI in the 2-2 draw with Everton on 16 April 2021.
Where relevant, we have also compared Mourinho’s first starting XI to the last XI of Mauricio Pochettino’s reign – a 1-1 draw with Sheffield United – for a bit of context.
In goal, both Pochettino’s last game and Mourinho’s first featured Paulo Gazzaniga, as Hugo Lloris was out with the horrific elbow injury suffered at Brighton in 2019. But as soon as the French Spurs captain and No.1 was fit, he was always Mourinho’s preferred option, as he had been under Pochettino. No surprise there.
In the backline, though, there was more of a shift. When Mourinho first came in, he made just one change to the defensive set up from the one Pochettino had fielded in the game before his sacking, bringing Toby Alderweireld in alongside Davinson Sanchez so Eric Dier could be moved into midfield. The full-backs Ben Davies and Serge Aurier stayed in place.
Yet as Mourinho’s stewardship progressed, players arrived to bolster the defence and the football became more negative and desperate – the perfect symbol of which was the back five he fielded in the last few games of his tenure.
Against Everton, he lined up with Serge Aurier, Toby Alderweireld, Joe Rodon, Eric Dier and Sergio Reguilon together in defence. Rodon and Reguilon are both Mourinho signings and the latter has been a fine addition. But Dier’s inclusion in the backline – the only position he has played this season – is essentially an admission that Mourinho’s initial experiment of using the Englishman as a deep-lying midfield screen for the defence was entirely in vain.
The change from a four-man to a five-man backline necessarily meant Mourinho changed the midfield. In the match against West Ham, he stuck with Pochettino’s preferred 4-2-3-1. But he finished up with a 5-3-2 at Everton, a move that reflects Mourinho’s disdain for ball possession.
Likewise, his changes in personnel between the two games – and from Pochettino’s last – are indicative of the sometimes unfortunate impact he had at Spurs. Against West Ham, he went with Dier and Harry Winks holding, with a line of Lucas Moura, Dele Alli and Heung-min Son ahead of them.
While Son and Lucas have remained among Mourinho’s go-to men, Winks and Alli have well and truly fallen from favour over the past 16 months. The soap opera-like travails of the latter were particularly well publicised.
In the central spaces against Everton were the trio of Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, one of the other Mourinho signings who has been a success, Moussa Sissoko and Tanguy Ndombele.
Ndombele started Pochettino’s last game, but his early troubles under Mourinho were very pronounced. Mourinho employed his full range of ‘confrontational leadership’ techniques on the Frenchman, including a very public shellacking after hooking him at half-time against Burnley in March 2020 and the infamous Hadley Common training session during the first lockdown.
To be fair to Mourinho, it appears to have worked on Ndombele – or at least had no deleterious effect – and the talented midfielder has been a mainstay of the team this season. Sissoko, meanwhile, proved again he’s Spurs’ Mr. Consistent, getting back into the team after Mourinho’s initial rejection and making his 200th Tottenham appearance against Everton.
Still, Mourinho never managed to set a real defined pattern of play in Tottenham’s midfield and could not get the best from many of his players, particularly the creative, ball-playing types like Alli, as discussed, and Giovani Lo Celso, who start Pochettino’s last game and for a while in early 2020 looked fantastic but this season has been peripheral.
La charla de Mourinho con Dele Alli, sinceridad ante todo.
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Just like he did in Pochettino’s last game and Mourinho’s first game, Harry Kane led the line in Mourinho’s farewell at Everton. No surprises there.
Alongside Kane at Everton was Heung-min Son, moved in off the left to play ahead of the England captain, who has increasingly turned provider under Mourinho.
The unbelievable relationship between Son and Kane, which to some extent built on the work done by Pochettino, was one of the few real bright spots of the Portguese’s time in charge. Playing together, Kane and Son are, respectively, the Premier League’s first and second most productive attacking players this season in open play.
Still, the whack-it-to-Kane-and-Son plan has often been Spurs’ only one and, without the midfield interplay and control to back them up, even their stunning goalscoring exploits have not been enough to put Tottenham in contention for the top four this term.
That, essentially, is why Mourinho is saying goodbye. Though there were some successes during Mourinho’s spell in N17 – Reguilon, Hojbjerg and the Kane-Son double-act chief among them – they have been outweighed by the overall regression towards the attritional, fear-filled football for which Mourinho has become renowned.
Progress didn’t come as Daniel Levy had hoped. Europa Conference League was never going to be enough and Mourinho has departed.
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