“What’s your reaction when people say that you aren’t killing off games and that you are coming out the second half and not being as attacking as you are in the first half?”
“My reaction is to say that is completely true, what is not true is that in the second half we do what I ask the players to do. It’s true, we have lots of chances to win matches in the first half, we are not scoring enough goals in relation to what we do. And then in the second half, opponents, they dominate us and it “looks” like we accept that dominancy and we pay the price of mistakes that we make defensively. So I agree totally with the pragmatism of the numbers but that’s not what we want to do.”
“What are you telling them at half time?”
“What I am telling at half time? Play attacking football, be dominant, kill matches, don’t accept their dominancy. Do you believe?” Jose Mourinho elaborated after a lengthy discussion with the Sky Sports reporter before the game against Sheffield United.
“Do you believe?” The question echoes in the back of your head.
Because how would you when you have seen the second halves against Crystal Palace, Wolves and Fulham. Teams that Tottenham shouldn’t have handed control of the game on a silver platter. Control that doesn’t automatically mean possession. Tottenham could have given them all the possession they needed, yet were still in control.
As was the case when they were constantly one step ahead of Arsenal and on another occasion nullifying Manchester City’s threat in the channels. Tottenham didn’t have possession of the ball but they were in control.
After these games Mourinho was lauded as a genius, but in the space of one month he was dragged back to the status of a football dunce. The irony though is that Mourinho’s side still lacks the cohesive attacking strategies that is needed to break down good defensive sides. It was something Tottenham lacked before the mini-rise of the genius and after the fall of the dunce.
Sparks of the 4–2–2–2 against West Ham United and Newcastle United might have provided hope, but the lack of consistently having multi-threats other than the dropping Harry Kane and the enigma that is Tanguy Ndombele makes their attacking threat weaker. Resulting in games similar to the Leicester City game, where Tottenham couldn’t break down Leicester’s defence.
And eventually that’s what might separate the league champion from the runner-up. A chink in the armor.
But that chink could be adjusted, it’s not even halfway through the season and Tottenham — despite all the ups and downs — could be only five points away from top place if Manchester City win their game in hand.
The season moves on as should the judgement. If Mourinho wins the league, the Pro-Mourinho brigade will laud him as a genius and prove themselves worthy of a bragging right that doesn’t resemble anything. If he doesn’t, then the Anti-Mourinho brigade will drag him back to simpleton-landia, neglecting all his impressive performances during the season.
The reality is that to date, Tottenham still have issues in possession and during the press. This might and might not improve, which accordingly should shift the judgement. From filling that chink to failing to, not from genius to dunce.
A similar story takes us to Old Trafford, the league leaders. It would be idiotic to criticize them, but the looming question after the game at Anfield was “Why don’t they attack Liverpool?”.
The answer simply is that they don’t know how. Mourinho and his successor’s biggest problem is that in an era where automatic attacking patterns is royalty, their over dependence on individual brilliance is peasant. Defensive structures have evolved, no longer a wild Eric Cantona in 1995–1996 can solely bring you a league title. There will be games when Bruno Fernandes won’t be on his day, there will be games when Son Heung-min will be misfiring. In those games, it’s up to the collective to find a solution.
Manchester City still depend on Kevin De Bruyne, but when he isn’t assisting crazy against teams there is still an attacking pattern that makes his team-mates rise.
To borrow @chelseayouth’s words. How can you get through the door when there isn’t a door?
This doesn’t negate however Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s effect on the team and the improvement of important individuals such as Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Fred. The first two have shown consistency that they lacked before the arrival of the Norwegian, while the latter transformed into arguably Manchester United’s best midfielder.
It also doesn’t negate Solskjaer’s effective plans against the likes of Leeds United this season, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham last season. In these games Manchester United had a clear idea of how to get the better of their opponent.
The issues though, or the chinks, appear against weaker sides when individuality is absent or against stronger sides when the individual can’t solely break down the immovable defence. Individuals might cover the chinks in a game or two, but over a 38-match season, these problems will drip small points that come the end of May might turn a champion into a runner-up.
A genius into a dunce.
Do you believe?