Will We See More of Rare Formation From Mourinho & Tottenham

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11: Japhet Tanganga of Tottenham Hotspur FC and Sadio Mané of Liverpool FC (Photo by Visionhaus)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 11: Japhet Tanganga of Tottenham Hotspur FC and Sadio Mané of Liverpool FC (Photo by Visionhaus) /
Japhet Tanganga, Tottenham
LONDON, ENGLAND – JANUARY 11: Japhet Tanganga of Tottenham Hotspur FC and Sadio Mané of Liverpool FC (Photo by Visionhaus) /

At the Hawthorns Jose Mourinho and Tottenham Hotspur shifted to a 4-4-2 to chase the winner and were rewarded that is one reason we may see the set-up more.

We know Jose Mourinho has a clear preferred formation, the 4-2-3-1, which he has used to set-up Tottenham Hotspur more than 55 percent of the time since taking over almost one year ago. Besides, the 4-2-3-1, Mourinho has been known to employ a 4-3-3 from time-to-time. Besides those two line-ups most of the rest are mishmash formations created out of necessity. However, one other formation exists that may again be of interest to the Portuguese and his team, the 4-4-2.

The reality is, there is good reason Jose Mourinho has only started with a 4-4-2 line-up twice in 50 matches at Spurs, Tottenham lacked the personnel. The only two matches where Mourinho used the 4-4-2, he did so more out of necessity than anything else, although the needs were different the results were the same, 1-0 losses.

Tanganga, Liverpool, and the 4-4-2

The first time Tottenham used the 4-4-2 under Mourinho was January of 2020 at home against Liverpool in the Premier League. At that point Harry Kane, Moussa Sissoko, and Ben Davies were all out injured, and Jose Mourinho started a young fullback named Japhet Tanganga. Instead of leaving Tanganga in the deep end against the best attack in the league, Mourinho opted for the 4-4-2.

In a 4-4-2, there is not as much space up the wing for the fullbacks to fill, leaving them in a more traditional defensive role. Additionally, the ‘wing’ that evening in front of Japhet Tanganga was Serge Aurier providing further protection for the young defender facing Sadio Mane and Mohammad Salah in his first start. Tanganga played well, as Spurs lost 0-1, but everyone felt decent about the loss, given the circumstances and excitement over young Tanganga.

In an irony I did not realize until doing the research for this piece, Tanganga’s first game against Liverpool was also what was likely the last game for Tottenham Hotspur for Danny Rose, who was subbed off for an extra attacker with about 20 minutes to go in the match.

4-4-2 and a Punchers Chance

The second time Mourinho used the 4-4-2 line-up was about a month later again at home and yet again against an offensive juggernaut. Tottenham lost 1-0 but had to feel they were still in the Champions League affairs with RB Leipzig considering the injury shelf. While Ben Davies had returned, Heung Min Son, joined Kane and Sissoko on the long-term injury list.

Not only had those three starters been lost, Christian Eriksen had been sold to Inter and Danny Rose was sent out on loan. In other words, Tottenham were down a lot of players and with a two-legged affair in mind, Mourinho, set up the team to be stout defensively, with two up-top so you have a chance. Unfortunately, neither Dele Alli or Lucas Moura – the starters – nor Erik Lamela who subbed for Dele could break through.

In the end, Tottenham were slightly outplayed, but managed 12 shots in the match. Ultimately, Leipzig physically beat the already shot Spurs into submission over the course of the game committing 17 fouls and continuously running at Tottenham with long balls. The set-up did what it was supposed to giving Spurs a chance offensively while keeping things sound defensively. Unfortunately, with the penalty things simply did not fall Tottenham’s way.

The 4-4-2 Returns to Tottenham?

After only two real uses of the 4-4-2 from the start in 50 matches under Jose Mourinho and the current success with the 4-2-3-1 and the alternative 4-3-3 it might not make sense to consider the 4-4-2 at this time. However, while Tottenham have not recently used the formation to start a match, they did recently use it to close one – in the win over West Brom.

Most thought Carlos Vinicius was brought in simply to provide some legitimate cover for Harry Kane. However, it was evident early in examining Vinicius his ability as a passer in small space make him an excellent option for a two-man attack. Whereas both in both the RB Leipzig game and the Liverpool match-up the two strikers were Dele and Moura, the next time Tottenham set up in a 4-4-2 it could be Harry Kane and Vinicius.

Simply put, having two recognized strikers in the side makes it possible to play a line-up with two strikers in it. We are not saying we will see it from the off any time soon, although it could be an intriguing Cup option. What we are saying is that whereas Spurs used the 4-4-2 last season out of necessity, this season Jose Mourinho and company can now use the 4-4-2 out of choice.

Whether or not Spurs will or should make that choice is another topic, but the reality is they can exercise that option in a way they have not been able too since Fernando Llorente left N17.