Last season’s Champions League finalists are having well-documented trouble in front of goal while tactical issues persist for Chelsea and Leicester
Tottenham failed to record a single shot on target against Bournemouth on Thursday. They have created only one big chance in their last three matches, and scored five goals in five matches since the restart.
But what is most damning isn’t the statistics or the lack of ideas in the final third. It’s that the Tottenham players can be seen consistently throwing their arms out wide in desperation and confusion, frustrated by the lack of options when the ball is at their feet.
Jose Mourinho doesn’t construct attacks, instead inviting his forwards to improvise their movements. That tends to work when allowed to play on the counterattack as the Portuguese prefers because the best counters are always free-form problem solving.
It also tends to work when the team possess self-belief; witness the quick start and intelligent movement, for all of 30 minutes, against Sheffield United in early July. But if confidence dips, limbs freeze up and the mind becomes cloudy.
When faced with a deep-lying defence, modern footballers need carefully pre-structured attacking moves to pull their opponent out of shape. The one-touch football at Liverpool, Manchester City, and increasingly at Arsenal might look ‘creative’, but those moves were constructed long ago on the training field and committed to muscle memory.
This is the essential issue facing Tottenham under Mourinho; it is the fundamental reason why he cannot move with the times.
It had started so well. Those early wins in November and December saw Spurs play in a complex, possession-based 2-3-5, suggesting Mourinho had finally adapted alongside new assistant manager Joao Sacramento.
Perhaps Tottenham were simply running on the afterglow of Mauricio Pochettino’s attacking tactics, because since the restart Spurs are classic Mourinho. For an attacking shape built on improvisation rather than collective patterns, flaws are localised to individuals, not systems.
Serge Aurier, high on the right wing, repeatedly turns back or hits a low cross into the first man. Harry Kane is too slow on the turn to link with the quick wingers around him, either permanently made sluggish by injury or suffering the consequences of playing every single minute of the restart. Giovani Lo Celso is well off the pace.
The 0-0 draw with Bournemouth was the new low point for Mourinho at Spurs. The midfield was so flat that Erik Lamela came short, leaving a lost Steven Bergwijn alongside Kane in a lacklustre attack. The half-spaces were emptied, ensuring Spurs had few forward passing options through that passive and under-stocked Bournemouth midfield.
If there is a tactical lesson to be learnt, aside from working on specific attacking lines in training, it is that assertive players are needed to raise the tempo, like Bruno Fernandes at Manchester United. Tanguy…