It’s been over 14 months since Jose Mourinho was appointed as Tottenham’s new manager, succeeding the sacked Mauricio Pochettino, and his time at the club has reached its lowest ebb. ‘Lowest ebb’. What a great phrase.
Spurs are ninth in the Premier League, nine points off their conquerors from Sunday and fourth placed West Ham, having lost five of their last six games in the competition.
They were knocked out of the FA Cup by Everton earlier in February in a ridiculous 5-4 defeat, but there are still the somewhat weak caveats of a Carabao Cup final – against Manchester City, the best team in Europe by quite some distance – and the potential of a decent Europa League run.
Coming up against any kind of decent attacking outfit will put Tottenham’s place in that competition in serious doubt, but for now they’re well positioned to reach the last 16 following a 4-1 victory over Wolfsberger.
But it’s not performances against sides like Austria’s fifth best team that are grating Tottenham’s fanbase.
It’s the losses to Liverpool, Brighton, Chelsea and West Ham that are grating. Not so much the City defeat, because, well…it’s City. They are quite good, after all.
Liverpool, Brighton and Chelsea were all there for the taking in some regard, but Tottenham put in flaccid performances in each defeat. Liverpool were ravaged by injuries, but still strolled to a 3-1 win. Brighton hadn’t won at home all season, so naturally a 1-0 victory for the Seagulls followed. Chelsea were still finding their feet under Thomas Tuchel, but understood his desired style of play enough to emerge victorious in north London.
West Ham’s a little weirder. The Hammers have been brilliant all season and are well deserving of their current position of fourth, but the two goals they scored on Sunday came from sloppy defending and a lack of concentration.
It’s a recurring theme with Tottenham. They can’t defend crosses from wide positions, but it seems the issue is not being addressed.
Instead, manager Mourinho backed himself over his players, quipping: “I think for a long, long time, we have problems in the team that I cannot resolve by myself as a coach.”
Now, no one is suggesting that Tottenham’s current roster of central defensive options is brilliant. It is far from that. The likes of Eric Dier, Davinson Sanchez and Toby Alderweireld have all suffered with the demand the defensive stye has placed on those at the back this season, with their shortcomings often costing Spurs points.
But the way Mourinho has spoken recently is cause for concern for Tottenham fans, if they aren’t already on the #MourinhoOut bandwagon.
When he first arrived at Spurs, Mourinho lauded the talent in the squad, quipping: “The quality in both the squad and the academy excites me. Working with these players is what has attracted me.”
It’s taken just over a year since that statement for Mourinho to quite overtly declare his players are the problem. For some supporters, that might be good enough – after all, a number of avoidable mistakes are being made week after week, and they’re costing the club points.
What’s frustrating is these comments give a ‘what can I do?’ POV from Tottenham’s manager, when it’s his job to identify problems and make the necessary changes, or use his coaching staff to show his players how to improve.
By Mourinho’s own admission, his and his colleagues’ methods are ‘second to nobody in the world’. It would stand to reason, then, that he should able to tell Dier to attack a cross at the front post rather than let it sail beyond him.
These comments are obviously peak Mourinho. No one should be surprised that he is appearing to distance himself from a team that is playing poorly. But all they do is further highlight the clash in styles between the manager and the club.
He will make it to the end of the season with his job safe. Daniel Levy is a known admirer and will give the former Chelsea boss every opportunity to make it work in north London.
But while Tottenham have been a bit of a laughing stock over the past few years, they haven’t seriously threatened to finish outside of the top ten until this season. With the focus likely to switch to the Carabao Cup and Europa League between now and the end of the season, that is a distinct possibility.
And to think, barely a few months ago we Spurs fans were shouting ‘it’s top, not joint top, it’s top’. It’s a funny game.