Jose Mourinho has returned to the Premier
League after his spell at Manchester United. Although that stint yielded three trophies,
it’s hard to see at as a significant success overall and the Portuguese manager will want
to rehabilitate his reputation in English football. At Tottenham Hotspur, he has an
excellent opportunity – a squad of high quality, a well-developed infrastructure,
and a new stadium all mark out Spurs as a club heading in the right direction, just
in need of freshening up. The Champions League is a good opportunity
for Mourinho to show how he has changed things quickly – as Spurs have qualified, this
game can be used to test his principles against high quality opposition. As these stats from
OneFootball show, Spurs have scored a lot but conceded a lot too, not least in the 7-2
defeat at home to Bayern Munich, their next opponents. Mourinho will want to tighten up
while not sacrificing the qualities his team have going forwards. Mourinho has assumed various tactical identities
in his various managerial spells – he is not just a dour pragmatist as sometimes painted
– and this Spurs team should elicit a more attacking version. Although it’s early in
his tenure in North London, and so this is a broad overview, there are a few noticeable
features of Spurs under his leadership. The clearest tactical decision Mourinho has
made is to play his 4-2-3-1 with a lop-sided build-up, with three at the back, the right
back Serge Aurier pushed up, and Lucas Moura staying more narrow while Son Heung-Min generally
stays wider. If Aurier pushes up very high, this can create a kind of square or rectangle
in midfield, with one of Kane or Dele Alli dropping off. This achieves solidity across all areas of
the pitch in case Tottenham are turned over, and also allows any of the front four to make
vertical runs to find space between the lines. Mourinho has clearly decided that the long-range,
penetrative passing of Toby Alderweireld is a significant weapon in his team’s armoury,
while also looking to maintain the rapid movement between the lines that was a Spurs’ hallmark
under Mauricio Pochettino. Spur’s build up positioning allows them to advance the
ball securely, with myriad passing options, while Alderweireld assesses his options and
decides whether to launch the sort of through pass that yielded two goals against Bournemouth. These kinds of passes rely on movement and
here, Spurs have good form on which to build. In Kane, they have a striker who can lead
the line or drop off, while Dele Alli appears to be rediscovering his form as a sort of
shadow striker, making runs behind into space created by his teammates’ movement. [PIC 5 and 6] In addition, Son Heung-Min excels at runs
from outside to in, attacking the channel between the opposition full back and nearside
centre back. Under Pochettino, these runs were often the result of quick interchanges
of passes in tight spaces – under Mourinho, the same sort of runs instead are coming from
more direct passes, although Spurs will still be capable of generating attacking options
in tighter areas between the lines. But this tallies with Mourinho’s desire to transition
more directly, and one could argue that there are similarities to the fluidity of his front
three at Porto, backed up by a more workmanlike unit who won back the ball before shifting
it quickly up to the attacking trio. It’s no secret that Eric Dier was coveted
by Mourinho when he was at Manchester United, so he’s likely to be the fixture alongside
Harry Winks in the double pivot. Generally they’re playing pretty narrowly in front
of the back three/four – Dier is obviously a ball-winner, while Winks is a steady passer,
capable of clever through balls but not generally a go-to progressive passer from deep. Mourinho has options: Christian Eriksen, Giovani
Lo Celso, Tanguy Ndombele, and Moussa Sissoko are all very different players and could add
different things – creativity, high volume progressive passing, ball carrying, and pressing
– to varying degrees. It’s likely that Mourinho has decided to build directly from
the back in part because his current first choice can shift the ball quickly to those
who can do more damage, or be bypassed altogether by Alderweireld. But a Winks/Dier double pivot
isn’t exactly optimal, especially against teams who sit deep and deny Spurs space between
the lines. And given that the front unit seem well suited
to Mourinho’s style and preferred 4-2-3-1, it’s unlikely that Spurs will shift to a
system that gives three in midfield, especially given that Dele Alli is well-set to become
the key player under Mourinho. Instead, the Portuguese manager will probably
end up to choosing who works as a midfield pair on a game-by-game basis and making frequent
changes in-game in this area too. He has options, but to retain speed of transition and the
team’s shape, it’s not yet clear how he’ll use them. The new manager has got to work quickly. Spurs
are playing with the sort of defensive compactness that Mourinho wants, while pressing intensely,
at least in the first half of games. A high defensive line, direct, quick transitions,
and a mobile front attacking unit with pace and intelligent movement are also what one
would expect of a Mourinho team – at Spurs he has most of the building blocks to fashion
a side capable of playing his preferred style of football, which is probably why he’s
been able to start his tenure successfully and adapted the side pretty quickly.