Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham appear to be moving in the right direction, and the introduction of three players over the past month has helped with the upturn, though the general poor-quality finishing is still a hindrance.
Mourinho took over at Tottenham Hotspur on 19 November 2019 though, frankly, it feels like longer ago, such has been the number of matches and, therefore, press conferences in that time. He inherited the team at a low ebb, devoid of confidence, structure and, most importantly, a midfield.
Since taking over he has toyed with a few different formations – plenty of 4-2-3-1, a little bit of 5-3-2, before finally landing on 4-3-3; the rationale for each impacted by the opposition and, just as importantly, the availability of players.
He has been keen to point out that Ben Davies has been missing since his first game – a shame, because he had identified a niche role for him – and he had been without Hugo Lloris for his whole tenure until the win over Norwich. Since Mourinho took over, he has also lost Moussa Sissoko and Harry Kane, barely had Tanguy Ndombele, and has had Harry Winks in fits and starts.
The man whose introduction has made all the different in Giovani Lo Celso. He had only made two starts before Mourinho’s arrival, but since the end of December he has been a mainstay. His speed of thought, speed of movement and speed of action have led to a considerable upturn in Spurs’ attacking fluidity, particularly in the past fortnight, and his transfer is likely to be made permanent over the coming days.
In defence, Mourinho gave Japhet Tanganga an opportunity, and he has not let him down. Tanganga is a natural defender – a very good reader of the game, tigerish, and brave – like Michael Dawson but with natural athleticism. Tanganga has also showed surprising ability to carry the ball out from the back, particularly against Middlesbrough where he played right-back. He was not renowned for his ball-carrying in the Spurs Academy set-up but, equally, he has always been solid in possession and this shows what belief from a manager can do for a technically able player.
And finally, Hugo Lloris’ re-introduction is timely. Paulo Gazzaniga has done as well as one might expect a second-choice goalkeeper to do, including saving a penalty in what could turn out to be his final appearance of the season. But there is no denying that we have missed Lloris and that Gazzaniga’s ability to get down quickly to either side is not what one would hope for from a Premier League goalkeeper. That said, Mourinho was rightly quick to praise Gazzaniga after Lloris came back in, saying ‘To leave Paulo out hurts. The good thing is that he is such a good member of the family and he is such a special friend of Hugo that I think he also shared our happiness to have Hugo back as a friend.’
Spurs have now put together a four-game unbeaten run and will have Davies and Ndombele fit to start games soon. Things are certainly looking up if they could just find a source of regular goals. Lucas Moura has disappointed for much of the season, but particularly when asked to play up front. Hopefully a new signing will alleviate that issue or, if not, Mourinho’s next innovation will be finding a new striker from within the squad.