Jose Mourinho's Tactics Against Liverpool Were the Correct Ones

15 January 2020 12:30

It was inevitable, wasn't it?

53 days, 13 games and eight weeks since Jose Mourinho was pictured lifting the Lilywhite shirt at Hotspur Way, we finally saw some widespread criticism for the 56-year-old supposedly returning to his old dinosaur self, as his Spurs side succumbed to a 1-0 home defeat against Liverpool on Saturday evening.

The Portuguese boss was already a talking point an hour before the game kicked off as he opted to start 20-year-old Japhet Tanganga in the Spurs backline, with the academy graduate lining up in every position along the defence throughout the game. Serge Aurier was deployed as a hybrid between right-back and right-midfielder, but also found himself in the number ten role on the odd occasion, reminiscent of Tim Sherwood's tactics.

Japhet Tanganga,Sadio Mané

Nevertheless, Spurs were sound defensively throughout. Set up in a low block, the back four/five did a good job at closing the gap between centre-back and wing-back, while the aggression and speed of Tanganga somewhat stifled the Reds' most dangerous forward - Sadio Mane.

It was the numerical superiority in midfield that caused the home side the most problems, with Harry Winks almost having to do the work on his own as the disillusioned number 23 was often a mere bystander in the middle of the park - Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was often the spare man and had some joy before his substitution.

Nevertheless, after Roberto Firmino and Oxlade-Chamberlain's attempts early on, the home side did well to limit the number of high-quality chances Liverpool had.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain,Heung-Min Son

From minute one, it was clear what Tottenham's game plan was to sit deep and hit the Reds in transition, with the direct route causing the imperious visitors a few issues early on - Lucas Moura and Son Heung-min spurned half-chances within the first ten minutes. 

Their long-ball approach, however, started to get too predictable as the first-half wore on, and the likes of Virgil van Dijk were able to deal with Spurs' threat with relative ease, before they went 1-0 up through Firmino after the hosts had failed to deal with a Liverpool throw-in from the left.

Mourinho's plan was highlighted by the half-time stats: Liverpool had made 254 more passes and had enjoyed 73.4% of the possession. 

Harry Winks,Roberto Firmino

In the second period, Spurs took a much more balanced approach to things. Harry Winks - who demonstrated on one or two occasions in the opening 45 that he was capable of unlocking the Liverpool press but was often bypassed - started to see the ball more, as the home side started to try playing on the floor again.

The introduction of Argentine duo Erik Lamela and Giovani Lo Celso after 69 minutes was the major turning point. It was almost confirmation in the change of approach as after sitting off the visitors for much of the game, Spurs started to press Jurgen Klopp's men higher up the pitch - Lo Celso pinched the ball off Georginio Wijnaldum in his own half to set up their first glorious chance of the final 20 minutes, but Son blazing over the bar from inside the area. 

Georginio Wijnaldum,Giovani Lo Celso

The double change instilled greater energy and tenacity to the home side's already improving performance.

In what was a period of domination for Mourinho's men, they didn't abandon the somewhat fluid style they'd adopted in the second half, working an opportunity for Lo Celso down the right byline after a neat passing sequence that started with Paulo Gazzaniga. 

That Lo Celso chance then came after Spurs once again played out from Gazzaniga before a patient build-up which saw almost everybody get a touch prior to Serge Aurier's wonderful cross for the Argentine from the right. 

Spurs' positive change in approach was summarised by the 14-pass sequence they worked for their last chance of the game, but Son hit his left-footed strike straight at Alisson.

Giovani Lo Celso,Alisson Becker

They were beaten, but they had two guilt-edge opportunities to grab something against a side widely regarded as the best team on the planet.

Despite this, Mourinho was the subject of criticism by many after the game for his seemingly negative set up. 

However, the majority of the home faithful were pleased to have seen their side go out and play with a clear plan - something they were devoid of for much of Mauricio Pochettino's final 12 months in charge.

In fact, in Pochettino's last two Premier League games against the Reds, he sat deep, invited pressure and look to hit them in transition, yes both games were at Anfield but the principle remains - it's simply the best chance you have of beating this incredible Liverpool side.

With the personnel he had available, Mourinho's game plan against the undefeated Reds was undoubtedly the right one - he provided his players with the best chance of succeeding against the world's hottest outfit. To see the Spurs players go out and execute a game plan, albeit a negative one, was refreshing. In the second half, they were braver in possession, often starting attacks from their goalkeeper - it wasn't all defending on the edge of your box and long-ball up to Moura and Son. 

The Spurs boss was also right in saying that Spurs would've 'collapsed' if they had played the way they did in the final 20 minutes for the full 90 - just take a look at what happened to Leicester when they came up against the Reds at the end of December. Tottenham just didn't have the personnel to match-up with Liverpool for the full game.

Jose Mourinho,Ben Davies

Injuries and leftover fitness concerns have restricted Mourinho from fielding his ideal Spurs side. For those who want to beat the 'I knew he wouldn't change' drum, unfortunately, Saturday's game wasn't the definitive answer to how he is going to take on his north London venture. 

When you take a step back and delve a little deeper into the context surrounding the Liverpool fixture, it's obvious that Mourinho's plan was more out of necessity than a sign of a return to his out of touch methods.

Source: 90min