Their dismal 1-1 draw at home to Fulham was yet another late capitulation in a season where the trend of sacrificing leads has become the norm for the Lilywhites. As soon as Ivan Cavaleiro’s header made the net bulge, the usual moans on social media began to appear from Spurs fans.
‘Score early, sit back and invite pressure, concede late on, repeat in the next game’.
It’s a simple observation, but a pretty accurate one too. Tottenham have conceded eight goals between the 75-90 minute mark – half of their total. They’ve also dropped 10 points after they’ve been leading in the last 20 minutes.
Jose Mourinho’s blamed his players after their disappointing late collapse against Fulham
Spurs have now dropped 10 points from winning positions in the Premier League this season
Six of those points have come against teams in the bottom half – Palace, Newcastle, Wolves and now Fulham. They are third in the list of teams who have squandered the most points from winning positions. The top two are Brighton (12) and Sheffield United (11).
After the game, a sullen looking Jose Mourinho pointed the blame towards ‘individual mistakes’ after watching his side miss a handful of good chances to build on their lead from both Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, who hit the woodwork.
‘Three or four big chances in the first half to have a different result,’ he said. ‘The biggest chance of the second half would have killed the game and then again we concede a goal that is completely avoidable.
Fulham were allowed back into the game because Spurs failed to control it and kill them off
‘There are things that are individual, that are down to individual qualities and individual mistakes. Basically I cannot say much more than that.’
It’s easy to forget that Spurs don’t concede too many goals – only 16 in the league so far – which makes them the joint-second best in the division. Eric Dier, Davinson Sanchez and Toby Alderweireld aren’t the best defenders in the world but they’re perfectly capable of forming a solid unit.
But when you’re forced to defend for much of the game there’s only so long before you give the opposition hope, and that’s what Tottenham do. Dier’s marking of Cavaleiro for the goal was questionable but this is a game that Spurs should have taken by the scruff of the neck and won.
Instead it was stuck at 1-0 in the 73rd minute and Fulham’s impressive second half showing finally paid off. The Cottagers were deserving of a point, but only because they were allowed back into this contest. This was the first time Scott Parker’s men have earned a point from a losing position this season and that is telling.
Half of the goals the team have conceded have come in the last 15 minutes of the game
Former Spurs midfielder Jamie O’Hara agreed that Spurs were struggling to cope with sitting back – claiming their defenders were not good enough to do what Mourinho once did at Chelsea.
‘I don’t think they’re good enough at the back to hold on to 1-0 leads,’ O’Hara told talkSPORT.
‘I’ve always said this: with Eric Dier, [Davinson] Sanchez or [Toby] Alderweireld – they’re not John Terry, they’re not [Ricardo] Carvalho.
‘They’re not the players that Mourinho has had. I think with the attacking prowess that we’ve got, you’ve got to go again. You’ve got to look to keep scoring.
‘What’s annoying me is that we’re doing the same thing and expecting different results. All right, we’re not losing, but the draws are killing us.’
Mourinho’s defensive tactics are stifling his team, one of the most talented in the league
By the end of it, Fulham, not Tottenham, looked like they would go on to win the game. Sergio Reguilon wheeled away to celebrate what he thought was a late winner only for it to be ruled out for offside, with jubilations quickly turning to embarrassment. Only after conceding did they show any real energy or desire to score again.
On paper, Spurs have one of the finest teams in the league but it’s not being utilised the way it should be. Son and Kane are having electric seasons but it feels the burden is solely on their shoulders to score goals, while the rest of the team is forced to sit back and hope for an opening to set them on their way.
No prizes for guessing that those two are the team’s top scorers in the league. The third highest scorer? Tanguy Ndombele with two.
So is it as Mourinho says, and the players are making too many mistakes, or is he asking too much? Does the buck actually stop with him? We’ve seen his ‘sit-back’ method plenty of times this season to varying degrees of success. It worked in a win over Man City, it earned a 0-0 stalemate at Chelsea.
There is too much pressure on Harry Kane (centre) and Son Heung-min (behind) to score goals
The Portuguese’s negative style goes against the club’s ethos of attacking teams with style
But it failed spectacularly in their 2-1 defeat to Liverpool as they conceded a last minute set-piece goal to Roberto Firmino, not to mention the late collapse in a draw to Wolves and away to Crystal Palace.
Players make mistakes, but when they’re put under constant pressure the possibility becomes much wider.
There is a saying that the more you have the ball the less chances the opposition will have to score. Clearly it’s one Mourinho has looked past. This tactic might work in winning Spurs a trophy but they must inject some more creativity into this team – which is brimming with quality – and seek to control games.
When Mourinho was appointed in November 2019, there were reservations from supporters wary of his defensive style. Spurs are renowned for attacking teams and winning with style. The great Bill Nicholson – the club’s most successful manager – once said: ‘It’s no use just winning, we’ve got to win well.’
The team have suffered far too many late collapses and supporters are growing frustrated
Mourinho lives and dies by his tactics but his system at Tottenham simply isn’t working
Mourinho’s current system goes against Tottenham’s core philosophy to attack teams, although many fans admitted they would turn a blind eye so long as it ended their painful 12-year trophy drought. With Spurs in one final and going strong in two others, that’s a real possibility – but is it enough?
The players can’t be happy with what they’re being asked to do on the pitch – Dele Alli hinted to the frustration in Tottenham’s fly-on-the-wall Amazon documentary last year, criticising Mourinho’s tactics after one defeat and questioning why they had played so direct.
After drawing to Fulham midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg accused the team of lacking ‘bravery’ and said Spurs shouldn’t ‘stand in our own box and defend’.
‘We have to do better in a couple of aspects of the game,’ he said. ‘More bravery, more focus in terms of organising the team and being solid as a team.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg called on Spurs to show ‘more bravery’ following the draw with Fulham
‘That doesn’t mean you have to stand in your own box and defend, it means the team is compact, the team is close to each other. I had a chance, I had to score. There are many details we have to do better.’
Mourinho is as stubborn as it gets – he will live and die by his methods that he knows have won him countless honours. But there are far too many flaws in his current set-up and it relies on too many fine margins for it to work.
This title was really there for Tottenham to win this season, and they led the table for a number of weeks at the back end of 2020.
They’re still only six points off as it stands but unless Mourinho looks for another way to get the best out of his players, a place in the top four is the best they can hope for.