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Mourinho’s baffling lineup & formation hamstrung Spurs vs. Brighton

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Spurs were bad, but they weren’t helped by how Mourinho set up the team.

Brighton & Hove Albion v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur have had a difficult last couple of weeks - the great feeling around the club produced by Son and Kane’s incredible goal scoring, Pierre Hojbjerg’s marshaling of the midfield, Tanguy Ndombele’s resurgence, and encouraging performances from the likes of Steven Bergwijn and Harry Winks have all but washed away due to sheer mediocrity on the pitch.

Both Liverpool (2nd half) and Brighton dominated Tottenham over the stretch of the last week or so. It could be argued that Spurs came apart against Liverpool but with a .1 xG throughout the entire 90, Liverpool came away deserved winners. Perhaps most if not all three goals were due to individual error but it was clear that the system Mourinho had instituted was no longer working.

It was all too clear to see against Brighton. Tottenham played their annual match in which, due to the system laid out, there seems like there’s no chemistry between the players - you’d be hard pressed to say any of the players had practiced together before.

The Lilywhite’s personnel problems were exacerbated by the system Mourinho wanted them to play, effectively culminating in a train-wreck of a performance.

Wingbacks

Credit: Wyscout

Mourinho opted for a 3-4-3 system which would shift to a 4-4-2 when out of possession. Two of Son Heung-Min, Bergwijn, and Gareth Bale would shift to the front two and press high when Brighton tried to play out of the back.

As the forwards pressed or cut off wide passing options, Ndombele would regularly try to cover a pass into the midfield - but too often he either pressed as the Brighton player picked the ball up and turned, allowing him to pass, or the Spurs midfielder was himself outnumbered.

Bergwijn presses Dunk and Son and Bale position themselves to restrict passing with their cover shadows, and pounce on Brighton’s outside CBs should they receive a pass. Both Groß and Bissouma would drop deep to open themselves up as passing options.

Tottenham getting outnumbered in the midfield became the overarching theme of the entire match - they struggled to have any semblance of control in the game, which resulted scarce goal scoring opportunities.

With a simple movement, Brighton pull Tottenham out of position. Groß moves to the flank drag Ndombele out of position and create space Brighton players to receive a pass. Rodon is pulled out position as the pass is played, as Hojbjerg is too far to affect the run of play.

It’s a symptom of Mourinho’s formation and lineup. Although there may be things going on behind the scenes that might affect team selection, it’s hard to understand what Mourinho was thinking playing a three at the back system with Sissoko and Davies (especially with Tanganga available.) As it relates to the above, it meant that there was one less midfielder on the pitch which caused more problems that Sissoko and Davies, combined, could not offset going forward.

Davies is a capable defender, and Sissoko can fill in as an RB in an emergency, but neither have the ability to be consistently threatening going forward. As such, from minute one, Spurs were positionally hamstrung.

Tottenham’s wingback system naturally meant that any chances of an overload would be found on the wings. Brighton did well ensuring that these overloads did not occur consistently. Davies, Bergwijn, and Son find themselves outnumbered by four defenders. Since Bale is on the far end, Berwijn is forced to pass it backwards.

Tottenham’s attacking moves would regularly be stalled by numerical inferiority. Superiority in numbers is extremely helpful in building an attack, but not outright necessary - the two ways to develop threatening attacking moves, quick interplay between players and crossing towards a target man, were not possible for Spurs.

It cannot be said enough that neither Sissoko or Davies have the skillset to be a constant threat on the wings, and this includes quick passing and crossing.

Tottenham’s pass map against Brighton. Thicker line = higher number of passes. The lines between Spurs’ makeshift wingbacks and the forward line are anemic.

Forwards

Moreover, if Davies and Sissoko could be relied upon to put in accurate crosses, there was no Spurs attacker that would be able to make something out of it. Bergwijn/Son/Bale all played in some sort of false nine capacity, meaning there was a big gap in the middle of the pitch. Although it’s impossible to say whether Vinicius would have found any joy against the likes of Dunk, this lack of aerial prowess affected other parts of the pitch as well.

Kane tends to drop deep to pick up the ball in the middle of the pitch, with Son running off the shoulder of the last defender. Kane can do this because he’s a world class, complete forward.

Bale and Bergwijn cannot do this, nor can Son - the latter is a world class finisher and great dribbler, but playing with his back to goal is not his strong suit. Yet Son found himself in the Kane role all too often, trying to link the midfield with Tottenham’s forwards.

Mourinho’s plan played to none of Tottenham’s strengths and brought individual weaknesses to the fore. The lacking functionality of Mourinho’s game plan was made even more apparent by Tottenham’s high pressing, which, combined with the double pivot of Ndombele and Hojbjerg, left Spurs exposed often.

Brighton regain possession on the right flank - Davies was involved in the build up play so Rodon is forced to follow Maupay and pressure him. Maupay lays a pass off to March however, and since both Ndombele and Hojbjerg are caught upfield, the break is on with Trossard in acres of space.

Brighton Show Spurs How to Play in Transition

From the first minutes of the match, it was clear that Spurs wanted to play a pressing game as opposed to the absorb pressure in two banks of four and then explode with pace. Both against Liverpool and Brighton, Tottenham played a higher line and tried to squeeze the opposition when they had possession. The main goal was to turn the ball over in the middle of the pitch, or the final third, and create threatening scenarios using quick passing and the forward line’s pace.

Tottenham played much higher against Brighton - notice how central Son (#7) and how much farther up the forwards and Hojbjerg (#5) are. Spurs were 1-0 down for the better part of 75 minutes so this higher positioning might be a result of Mourinho’s outfit chasing the game - however they played with a high line even before Brighton scored.
Spurs’ player positions against Southampton, a game in which they invited opposition onto them and created attacking opportunities from deep.

For all of their higher positioning, Spurs were largely ineffective at crafting counter attack opportunities from turnovers.

Tottenham regain possession in the middle of the pitch, after a loose ball ends up at the feet of Bergwijn. Bissouma is not close enough to affect Bergwijn and intelligently holds his ground to block off passing lanes. Bergwijn, however, is not aware of the space he has so, instead of capitalizing on three Brighton players being caught upfield by a turn and pass towards Bale or a switch towards Sissoko, he plays the safest pass towards Rodon. Brighton are allowed to reset.

Going beyond on-pitch tactics is further that this article intends - but it did appear that, in this match in particular, Spurs players were playing with fear. Instructed to create opportunities for transition and yet rarely making an effective pass forward and always opting for the centerbacks to reset play.

Brighton, on the other hand, were excellent at creating threatening moves immediately after regaining possession. They played expansively, and seemed to always have multiple options to progress the ball.

Bissouma wins possession and immediately drives at Tottenham’s midfield. Bissouma has multiple options (faded arrows) but elects to pass the ball centrally. Brighton was consistently executing these types of moves, and they effectively bypassed Tottenham’s midfield numerous times.

Conclusion

Most, if not all, Spurs players underperformed against Brighton. But Mourinho’s system set them team up for failure, playing to none of their strengths but all of their weaknesses.

Once again, Spurs find themselves back to square one with Mourinho. Let’s hope he feels that he has something prove against Chelsea - for many Spurs fans, his decisions and man management have left a lot to be desired, specially given his title winning repertoire.