It is difficult to judge Jose Mourinho’s first few months in charge of Tottenham. The Portuguese coach has certainly lost the aura that he once possessed, but it would be unfair to say he is doing poorly at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. There has been an upturn in league form, despite the squad getting much weaker since his appointment. The sale of Christian Eriksen, in addition to the injuries to Son Heung-min and Harry Kane have left the team with a big problem in attack.
This will be a huge test of Mourinho’s abilities over the next few months. There will still be an ambition to qualify for next season’s Champions League and challenge for the FA Cup. The former could be helped by Manchester City’s European ban, as 5th place could be enough to secure qualification. However, even that appears difficult without an established plan to break teams down.
During this challenging time, the Tottenham manager has gone back to his established style. That is to restrict opposition teams at the back and offering a threat on the counter attack, using the pace of Steven Bergwijn and Lucas Moura. That appears to be the plan, but in reality, Spurs are really struggling to be effective. In matches against RB Leipzig and Chelsea, the team have conceded clear cut chances, while offering little in the attacking third.
The issues are clearly shown by the expected goals across the two matches. Tottenham created an xG of 1.45 and they had an xG conceded of 3.91. These were two teams that Spurs would have been expected to compete with, but they were second best by quite some margin. Supporters will tolerate Mourinho’s style when results are good, but it can be a very sobering experience when they are convincingly beaten in big matches.
In hindsight, the decision not to sign a striker looks to be a very poor one. It is unlikely that the decision was driven by the manager, therefore Daniel Levy isn’t blameless in this situation. The very best Mourinho teams have been built around great strikers, such as Didier Drogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Diego Milito. In this respect, there needs to be a degree of sympathy with his current situation and it would be unfair to judge him too harshly, despite recent results.
That said, this is an opportunity for Mourinho to show that he remains one of the very best managers in the game. Although none of them are traditional number nines, Lucas Moura, Steven Bergwijn and Dele Alli are all very talented attacking players. The recent decision to leave the latter out of the team against Chelsea looks a very poor one in hindsight, regardless of any issue with the player. The fans will find it difficult to have sympathy with the current attacking injury crisis when the manager chooses to leave out their best fit attacker.
Throughout his career, Mourinho has done his best work when he has had his back to the wall. The increasing criticism of his decisions wouldn’t have gone unnoticed and he will want to silence the doubters. He will need results to do that. With a week without a fixture, there is a chance to work on the training ground and find a balanced style that works with the players available.
The next few months are unlikely to cost Mourinho his job. That said, it could be very damaging to his relationship with the Tottenham supporters unless he can find an effective style and get results.