Tottenham: Mourinho Blows First Expanded Bench for Spurs

Tottenham Hotspur's Portuguese head coach Jose Mourinho looks on during the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, on December 20, 2020. / (Photo by ANDY RAIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Tottenham Hotspur's Portuguese head coach Jose Mourinho looks on during the English Premier League football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Leicester City at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, on December 20, 2020. / (Photo by ANDY RAIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images) /

Despite nine substitutes, Tottenham Hotspur were caught short in midfield Sunday after Tanguy Ndombele was taken off and Giovani Lo Celso got hurt.

Asked what he thought of the expanded bench and José Mourinho commented about the ability to provide “more options you will cover almost every position”. However, when Tottenham Hotspur needed cover most there was no option to fill the void in the center of the park. Left with the absence of both Ndombele and Lo Celso in the second half against Leicester City, Tottenham looked lost and devoid of ideas in a winnable match.

Could Have Been Worse

Tottenham really were not punished for the lack of any midfield but then again, they were not able to punish Leicester City either and looked a far cry from the highest scoring team in the Premier League from the start of the week. Without a creative presence supporting the attack, Spurs were left hoping for a set-piece or an incredible individual effort, neither of which came.

While some may point to the fact that Tottenham had more possession in the second half, that was because Leicester City sat deep, giving Mourinho and Tottenham a little taste of their own medicine. However, instead of Manchester City taking 22 shots and feeling hard done, Spurs were outshot 17 to 8 and probably were lucky it was not worse.

Toby Alderweireld and Eric Dier both looked just one ball away from calamity all day as neither had an answer for the pace of Jamie Vardy. Worse because there was no in the middle for Spurs, whenever Leicester had the ball, they had the time they needed to pick out their passes. With Højbjerg and Sissoko trained to sit deep to cover for the weakness of Dier and Alderweireld, there was a huge gap in the midfield offensively and defensively for Tottenham.

A few Spurs, like Harry Kane, ran hard trying to pressure but it was more hectic than systematic from Spurs. However, the lack of any real cohesion defensively and the absence of a body in attacking midfield left Leicester to do whatever they wanted.

James Maddison complete 28 of 29 passes as he could do whatever he wanted in the middle of the pitch. Maddison’s fellow midfielder Wilfred Ndidi completed 47 of his 50 passes as he bossed an assortment of Tottenham wingers pretending to play in a #10 role.

Without anyone leading the charge in midfield, Spurs were simply rudderless on both ends of the pitch. Whereas Spurs had chances against Liverpool, there was only one real Schmeichel save of note on the day. However, it did not have to be this way, as there was ample opportunity to have the replacements needed with the new expanded Premier League benches, but Mourinho left himself short.

Missing Ingredient

Part of the imbalance that obviously continues to exist at Tottenham Hotspur is the fact that the midfield has a lot more players for one position than it does for the other two in the current set-up. While Pierre Højbjerg and Moussa Sissoko fit well at the base of the Mourinho midfield defensively, no one else in the team really does.  Sure, Harry Winks can play in a deep-lying midfield position, but a deep-lying, holding midfielder is not what Mourinho is asking for in the midfield base.

Alternatively, Tottenham Hotspur have Tanguy Ndombele, Giovani Lo Celso, Dele Alli, and Erik Lamela – at minimum – who can all claim the #10 role as their best position on the pitch. Yet on a day when two of them were starting together, with only one in the more advanced role, no cover was included on the bench.

We know Erik Lamela is still injured for the umpteenth time and should be back for his stretch of a dozen or so games in January. However, Dele Alli was left off the roster today after the bench was expanded and it likely cost the team the game.

After Ndombele was taken off at half-time and Lo Celso lasted all of four minutes in the second half, Mourinho looked and the cupboard was bare. Was Matt Doherty or Ben Davies going to be the answer again? Not this time, as Spurs had three defenders and 3 wingers on the bench, but only one true midfielder in Harry Winks.

Spurs Should Have Known

Højbjerg and Sissoko rarely, if ever come off, whereas Ndombele and Lo Celso come off almost every game. To start them both and have a team without direct cover for the position is inexplicable. Gareth Bale, Steven Bergwijn, and Lucas Moura all play best on the outside and Carlos Vinicius is a pure striker. Tottenham knew coming in the strength of Leicester was up the middle. Tottenham also knows the odds of either Lo Celso or Ndombele going a full 90 are not good to begin with.

Many have said if Spurs were going to win the League Dele Alli had a role to play, today may have been that day, instead he never even got the chance. To leave himself and the team so obviously short on a day when it was so obviously going to be needed means José Mourinho only has himself to blame for this one.

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