On Mourinho And Tactics

We are only a few games into the Jose Mourinho era and it’s not a time to draw conclusions about his approach or his tactics, particularly as he is new to working with the squad and has not had ample opportunity to work out what he has and has not got yet. What we can do, though, is note some of the early changes that he has put into place and comment on them.

There are two really obvious changes that were instant. Firstly, he installed Eric Dier, a defensive midfielder, at the base (NB: this may actually be a point of dispute but is factually correct based on average positions!) of his midfield. Dier hasn’t played every minute of every game under Mourinho — he did not play against Manchester United (fitness?) and he was the one sacrificed on 29 minutes against Olympiakos. But both he and his role seem important to Mourinho thus far, and he did a good job against Burnley in particular. I am pleased to see a more defensive-focussed player in midfield and, more importantly, the breaking-up of the Harry Winks/Moussa Sissoko midfield combination, which I have hated from its inception. Whether Mourinho is wedded to Dier or just the inclusion of one naturally defensive-minded remains to be seen. Certainly his return to the team has not been a universally popular one, and he is absolutely not yet where he was pre-injury.

The second obvious change is the lopsided approach to full-backs, which allows us to play a 3-2-5 in our build-up play and commit to a form of Positional Play whilst maintaining defensive structure. Having one full-back — so far, the left back — hang back means — simplistically — that we have one extra player in reserve should attacks break down. For a team that seemed to have lost a lot of confidence and was conceding a high volume of shots, this seemed a sensible decision for Mourinho to make. We had also been struggling with our left-back selections. With Danny Rose a shadow of the player he once was and Ben Davies struggling to get up and down the pitch, this seemed like an ideal compromise. Interestingly, with Ben Davies getting injured, many people have speculated as to whether we might see Juan Foyth play as the more defensive full-back on the right, with Ryan Sessegnon coming in on the left to play the role that Serge Aurier has been playing up until now on the opposite side. In today’s press conference, Mourinho seemed to confirm the possibility of one of those things whilst denying the other:

Of course, the other problem with shifting the defensive minded player from the left-back to the right-back is that Son Heung-min, our touchline hugger on the left, would no longer be playing the role in which he has been excellent so far.

Other points of note so far include:

  • Increased long-balls from defence, particularly Toby Alderweireld, which have proven hugely profitable in most games, and hugely detrimental in the Manchester United match, where the ball kept coming back at us.
  • Dele playing just off Kane and making a lot of runs behind the defence to stretch them. He has undoubtedly been one of the stand-outs under Mourinho so far, though he was less effective against Burnley.
  • Paulo Gazzaniga largely kicking long; the ‘build from the back’ intent is now much more situational and pragmatic, and Gazzaniga is more likely to go long than play short.
  • Harry Winks/Son Heung-min/others on corner duty; keep an eye on this, but we’ve switched up corner taking duty and seem to be playing a lot more ‘percentage balls’ into the box — i.e. beat the first man and put the ball into an area, rather than firing in low, flat corners into the near post.

I am sure that there will be more tactical innovation from Mourinho once has has more time on the training field, and I think he has been sensible in keeping things relatively simple so far. Certainly he made it clear today that he wants to use the time he will get with the squad in January to get to work.

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