All is not lost for Tottenham Hotspur this season with plenty to play for and Jose Mourinho’s decisions over the coming weeks will be crucial.
While 2021 has not started well for Tottenham Hotspur there is still time for Jose Mourinho to turn things around.
Spurs crashed out of the FA Cup in midweek at Everton and having been top of the Premier League table in December, the north London outfit now find themselves 17 points behind leaders Manchester City, who comfortably beat Mourinho’s men on Saturday evening at the Etihad Stadium.
Tottenham are in ninth position on the table but thanks to the strange nature of this season’s competition, all is definitely not lost for the Portuguese.
So tight is the top half of the Premier League, that Spurs are only four points behind fourth-placed Liverpool and have a game in hand over Jurgen Klopp’s side.
Mourinho’s team have also played most of the Premier League big boys twice already in a quirk of the fixture schedule.
On top of that, Tottenham are in the Carabao Cup final in April and take on Austrian side Wolfsberger in their first leg of the Europa League round of 32 on Thursday night.
Here are five things Jose Mourinho needs to do to get Spurs back on track.
(1) FIX THE DEFENSE (Things Jose Mourinho must do to turn around Tottenham’s season)
Before the defeat at the Etihad, Tottenham had the second best defense in the Premier League with 22 goals conceded from 22 games.
However, it’s clear that’s a by-product of Mourinho protecting the defense in matches rather than through consistently impressive displays from the back four or three.
Mourinho has tried every possible combination from those he considers to be center-backs and none of them have worked over a run of matches.
Individual errors have been prevalent and they are leading to a dip in confidence and in turn constant rotation from the head coach.
One thing Mourinho hasn’t done is make a u-turn on a decision he made about academy product Japhet Tanganga
The Portuguese told football.london earlier this season that now considered the 21-year-old to be a full-back rather than a center-back, despite the player having developed solely in the latter role throughout his academy development.
Mourinho said that Tanganga would have to be used centrally occasionally when others were unavailable, but it’s tough to make the argument for the positional switch Mourinho has made.
Tanganga does not contribute as an attacking threat down the right and instead acts as a third centre-back in the role. He also has impressed whenever he’s played in the middle this season and is so far less prone to the mistakes other more experienced players make.
“Japhet did very well,” Mourinho told the club’s official website after Saturday’s defeat at City. “He’s a positive – a young guy, an academy guy, a club guy coming into the game and the game, of course, not easy.
“I didn’t feel that he had any problems and that he was in control against good players and a good team, and when the team is not physically well, then minute after minute, you start opening up spaces, not the same recoveries from the midfield players or the centre-backs.”
Mourinho has used Tanganga against some top opposition since giving him his Premier League debut against Liverpool last season and he’s rarely let him down.
This might be one decision the Spurs boss might have to take another look at.
Getting Hugo Lloris back to doing the basics well after a tough week for the Frenchman will also help settle the defence.
When the World Cup winner is confident and making big saves he can inspire those in front of him, and Mourinho and his goalkeeping coach Nuno Santos must get the 34-year-old back into his groove.
(2) GET SOMETHING OUT OF GARETH BALE (Things Jose Mourinho must do to turn around Tottenham’s season)
It’s not solely down to Mourinho to prevent Daniel Levy’s dream return of Gareth Bale ending up as a nightmare but if the Welshman is motivated then the two men could yet help each other out.
It’s fair to say that despite the 31-year-old’s four goals in 16 appearances, Bale’s loan has been a disaster.
He’s up there among those at the top of Spurs’ wage bill but he’s played exactly half the games Harry Kane has and contributed a fraction of the input the England captain has with his 21 goals and 14 assists.
Mourinho will point to Bale’s fitness and confidence issues with his body, while the player will say he has never been given a run of matches to build any rhythm.
The Welshman is a big game player though and when the pressure has been on during his career he’s often come up trumps, with four Champions League winner’s medals among others on his trophy-laden CV.
There was a little glimpse on Saturday, with a dazzling run past three Manchester City players and a shot that Ederson had to acrobatically push away, that the old Gareth Bale is in there and just needs to be shown a bit of TLC.
The winger has so much quality and he needs to rewrite the narrative built in Madrid that he just doesn’t care.
(3) PRAY FOR RETURNING PLAYERS (Things Jose Mourinho must do to turn around Tottenham’s season)
To be fair this is one Mourinho can’t really do too much about other than pray.
The loss of Sergio Reguilon has been felt down the left in recent weeks. The Spain international’s pace and drive down the flank has been sorely lacking and Mourinho has been forced to use Ben Davies in every single game.
The Welshman, while a useful and versatile squad player, has not provided the width and attacking ability Reguilon is capable of.
Mourinho hopes the Spaniard will be back for Thursday’s Europa League match in Budapest.
The short-term loss of Serge Aurier has also been problematic in a week when Tottenham could have done with the Ivorian as another option down the right.
The absence of Giovani Lo Celso has been even more frustrating for Mourinho, with the Argentine adding his name to the long list of players who have become regular visitors to the Tottenham treatment room seemingly only after joining the club.
Spurs have missed the Argentine’s ability to create and up the tempo, providing an alternative spark to Tanguy Ndombele and able to play the momentum changing through balls that Kane and Son thrive on.
Mourinho has indicated that Lo Celso is still a few weeks away from returning and Tottenham need his return but also to make sure he remains out of that treatment room afterwards.
(4) CONTINUE TO REINTEGRATE DELE ALLI (Things Jose Mourinho must do to turn around Tottenham’s season)
One player who is back and in Mourinho’s plans is Dele Alli and the Portuguese has been true to his word in getting the 24-year-old involved.
He played more than he would have probably would have wanted at Everton due to extra-time and then came on at the Etihad Stadium, meaning he’s got around 70 minutes of football in his legs.
The plan is, with Ndombele playing in a deeper role now in central midfield, to use Alli in the number 10 role behind Kane where he became one of Europe’s most exciting young players.
The prospect of Son, Alli and potentially Bale playing behind Kane is an exciting one, with Ndombele pulling the strings behind, but those players have to click and they have to work hard to defend from the front as well.
Alli could well start against Wolfsberger if the signs are that he’s ready and he needs to start getting back to the Dele of old.
(5) WIN BACK DISAPPOINTED FANS (Things Jose Mourinho must do to turn around Tottenham’s season)
For Mourinho, the end justifies the means and most Tottenham fans, starved of silverware for decades, were willing to try something a bit different in order to have something tangible in that trophy cabinet.
However, with those means currently not leading to much at all, other than that League Cup final appearance, supporters are getting restless.
Mourinho is fortunate that fans are not back in the stadiums because some of the performances in recent months would have brought a very vocal response from the Tottenham faithful.
His attacking line-ups in recent matches, with Sissoko and Winks both benched, may well have been an attempt to make the football more attractive, only for the defence to crumble or in Saturday’s case, a lack of quality in attacking movement and possession stopping most attacks before they had really begun.
The attacking edge to line-ups could also have been an attempt to show just how vulnerable the defence can be if not protected.
Mourinho always had to win over the supporters, his Chelsea roots and previous digs at the club remembered by many.
He needs to somehow find balance in Tottenham’s play, shoring up that defence but not sacrificing attacking play in the process.
Spurs’ fixtures in the weeks ahead look more winnable on paper but in reality see them coming up against teams in form and Mourinho must find the formula quickly to win games consistently again and just as importantly win over the fans.