Tottenham and Odd-Numbered Back Formations Under Mourinho

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 23: Jose Mourinho, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur gives instructions to Toby Alderweireld (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 23: Jose Mourinho, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur gives instructions to Toby Alderweireld (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images) /
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Tottenham, Toby Alderweireld
Tottenham Hotspur’s Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images) /

Tottenham Performance with an Odd Backline

Tottenham Hotspur have played eight games under Jose Mourinho with three defenders across the back and once with five. In those nine matches, Spurs have only won three matches, drawn three, and lost three. One can debate the number of wins versus draws as one of those wins was the shoot-out victory over Chelsea, where the ‘match’ ended in a draw; however, Spurs advanced so it was a win.

Going with the 3-3-3 record, Tottenham statistically has the highest percentage of losses under any formation in this set-up – except the seldom used 4-4-2 of course. Digging into the number’s things start to look a bit worse yet for Spurs in this kind of formation. Tottenham have given up more goals they have scored when playing with an odd numbered backline, with 13 goals for and 16 goals against.

While things look lopsided, they include a 3-0 defeat at RB Leipzig in the statistics, which was the only game Spurs failed to score in the formation. Of course, Tottenham have also failed to have even one clean sheet with an odd—numbered backline, so we are certainly not advocating for it at this time. The reality is Jose Mourinho has used the formation as much out of necessity as he has anything else.

Who Plays in the Back Three for Spurs

Even the Chelsea match this season saw Spurs playing without Son, meaning there was some circumstance that was often leading to the use of the formation rather than it being a preferred approach. The evidence of stresses the team were often facing are seen in the variety of players deployed to man the backline in these nine instances. Only once during the nine matches have the same three been used with seven different players rotating across the backline.

Toby Alderweireld is clearly key to having a back three, as he has been included in the lineup in all but 1 of the instances where Jose has used it – the 2-3 loss to Wolves last season. After Toby, we see three different players who have made five appearances across the nine matches, although only two will do so in the future.

Eric Dier, Japhet Tanganga, and Jan Vertonghen have all played five times each under Mourinho in an odd-numbered backline and Davinson Sanchez has featured four.  With Vertonghen now gone, we can expect that number to increase for the other two Spurs in the future, particularly as Tanganga becomes healthy. It was Tanganga, Alderweireld, and Dier who have performed together on more than one occasion, and it happened to be the last two times Spurs used an odd-back formation.

Juan Foyth is the only other player to participate in the back three for Spurs, doing so once in Premier League against Norwich. Ben Davies, who has played some center-half of late, did appear once in the set-ups as well, although it was as the left fullback in the five-man backline used at Chelsea.

While it has been a while since we have seen an odd-numbered backline for Tottenham Hotspur, it has also been a while since we have seen Japhet Tanganga. As Tanganga regains fitness and Davinson Sanchez regains confidence we might see more of the formation. But then again, given the overall results, if Spurs can stay healthy, this one might just stay in the closet too.

If you enjoyed this article, here are links to the previous articles in this series exploring how Jose Mourinho has set up Tottenham Hotspur in his first 50 games in charge of the club. The articles are listed in order of publication.

The Various Formations of Jose Mourinho at Tottenham (4-2-3-1)

Tottenham in the 4-3-3 Under Mourinho

Will we See More of Rare Formation (4-4-2)