Tottenham Hotspur 2019/20: What can Jose Mourinho do without Harry Kane? – scout report
Since José Mourinho was appointed on the 20th of November 2019, the North London side have had mixed success in the Premier League, with six wins, two draws, and four defeats. Tottenham Hotspur ends January six points off a top-four spot, but more importantly for their season, they will be without Harry Kane until April. This brings Mourinho his biggest test so far: he will have to find a way to improve his side’s season without their talisman leading the line.
This tactical analysis/scout report will look at Mourinho’s tactics and how he can best utilise what players he has at the club to cope with the absence of Harry Kane. The analysis will look at how Mourinho can change the way Tottenham plays with counter-attacks, the types of crosses, and numbers in the box. Tottenham does have the personnel to manage – it all depends on how well they can adapt.
Change is needed
Since Kane’s injury, Tottenham Hotspur have won just one game in the Premier League, and this was a tight 2-1 win against the bottom side in Norwich City. Out of the six games without Kane, Spurs have only scored six goals, only two of which have been in the Premier League. This has been a problem throughout the year as Tottenham’s expected goals in the Premier League has averaged at 1.41. This is lower than their opponents’ average of 1.47. This difference is important as it shows Tottenham’s opponents are more likely to outscore Spurs.
This chart shows the areas Tottenham have struggled in this season.
Part of Mourinho’s style in the past has been for his teams to sit deep and absorb pressure. This way of playing has brought him success as his teams have bought into the defensive system. They have also had the quality to then take the chances they create. Therefore, without Kane and a natural replacement, Spurs need to change their approach.
One way Tottenham could do this is by becoming a counter-attacking team. With Son Heung-min and Lucas Moura, they have two players who are confident running with the ball at pace. It is a style that may fit Spurs, as throughout the season 37.63% of counter-attacks have resulted in a shot on goal. This is significantly higher than their opponent’s counter-attacks against Spurs of 27.16%.
There have been signs in recent weeks that this is something they have been working on. As this example shows, Dele Alli has been able to carry the ball out of defence, taking Norwich’s midfielders out of the game. This has left Tottenham with a three vs three. It is an ideal situation as Alli has a passing option either side of him and the chance to run at the defence. It is difficult for teams to defend this situation as all three of these players are good one vs one and have passing options on the ball. This is the type of attack Tottenham need to create on a more regular basis.
How can they achieve this?
Lately, Tottenham has been using a formation with only one central striker and two wide men either side. This could be a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3. Both of these formations are designed to attack teams through the flanks, it encourages Tottenham to get the ball wide and get crosses in the box. This can be effective with Kane as he does provide an aerial and physical threat in the box. However, this does not play to Son’s and Moura’s strengths. These formations can be good at creating counter-attacks as it enables the wide men to get forward with the striker. Nevertheless, it may be more beneficial for Spurs to adopt a narrow formation with two up top.
This could be a variation of a 4-4-2 like the 4-1-2-1-2. This may be ideal, as Alli could sit behind Son and Moura so the three could attack together. The narrow formation would also mean that the players are closer to each other allowing them to pass the ball forward more quickly. To utilise this formation so that Spurs can counter-attack teams, Son and Moura need to make runs down the side for Tottenham to get out of defence.
The example below indicates the types of positions the three players would take up. In this example, it is Moura making the run down the side. With a 4-1-2-1-2 set up, Son and Alli would be in central positions giving Moura an option back inside. This shows how the formation would allow Spurs to get the three players forward quickly. If Tottenham were to sit deeper it would force teams to come on to them leaving space in behind. This is an extreme example as it is the last minute of the game and Norwich are pushing for an equaliser, but it does show the positions the forwards would take up.
Problem with trying to counter-attack
In the big games, Tottenham will have the opportunity to counter-attack teams. This is because top teams will look to attack Spurs, meaning they will commit players forward. Nevertheless, this will not be the case for a lot of teams that Spurs face. Teams will be cautious to commit men forward knowing the threat Tottenham have. In fact, in two of their last three games, they have had the majority of the ball. It was only against Liverpool that they had just 33% possession. This requires them to break down their opponents in a different way.
Typically Tottenham tries to form attack from the wings coming infield. This is partly because Son and Érik Lamela like to try and cut inside for a shot on their favoured foot. Unless Spurs can catch the midfield out of position, this is difficult to do against a well-organised defence. This example shows how Watford have two players covering the run inside forcing Son to either go down the line or back around the defence. Watford are not too concerned if Son does try and go down the line as it is only Moura in the box, who is being marked by Craig Cathcart.
Types of crosses
This tactical analysis has mentioned Tottenham’s struggles in breaking down teams. Part of the reason why is the types of crosses they put into the box as Spurs’ style is for the full-backs to get as high up the pitch as possible. This is because they try to rotate the ball as quickly as possible to give the full-back as much time as possible to pick out a player in the box. This season only 26.96% of crosses have been successful – lower than their opponent’s average of 33.69%. This is largely down to the type of cross Tottenham are putting into the box.
The image below shows the problem Spurs have been having as this is the typical area that they try and cross the ball from. With only Moura in the box against Virgil van Dijk, Joe Gomez, and Trent Alexander-Arnold, it was unlikely this was going to be a success.
What Tottenham can do to change?
As explained above, a narrow formation may benefit Spurs as it would enable them to break out of defence more quickly. However, it could potentially mean that their creative players can find space on the edge of the area to find the cross into the box. With players such as Alli, Giovani Lo Celso, Gedson Fernandes, and Harry Winks, Tottenham have a selection of players that are comfortable to pick up the in tight space and move the ball on. They are also players who can find pockets of space on the edge of the box.
In this example, it illustrates the possible position that Lo Cleoso could take up to cause problems for the defence. If he was to take up this position it would give Serge Aurier the option to play a one-two into space behind Watford. He would then have the opportunity to drill a low cross to Moura, Son, or Alli, who are more likely to get in front of their marker then win the header. If Lo Celso takes up this position and the defensive midfielder moves across to cover the ball in behind. It then gives him the option of an inswing cross to the back post. This type of cross is much more difficult to defend as it is in the area that means the keeper cannot come out to claim it. The cross also allows the attacker to get a run on the defence meaning they are more likely to win the header.
Any team does become weaker when they lose one of their key players to injury, especially if they are of the calibre of Kane. However, it does allow Mourinho to see what his squad is about. Players like Alli need to step up and show the class that he has demonstrated in the past. This will be more possible if he is given the advanced role mentioned in the analysis.
This analysis looked at how Son and Moura could potentially be a deadly partnership up top four Tottenham. It will be intriguing to see what Tottenham try to do in their upcoming fixtures and the type of role he gives Lo Celso.