Tottenham 19/20 Review: Disaster pre- and post-Poch
It's been a hugely disappointing season for Tottenham Hotspur who are very likely to miss out on the Champions League after four consecutive qualifications. Alex Keble tells the gory story...
In the space of 11 hours Tottenham Hotspur fired Mauricio Pochettino, their most successful manager in 30 years, and hired Jose Mourinho, one of the most divisive figures in the game.
What Daniel Levy did in mid-November 2019 was one of the most unprecedented managerial changes of the Premier League era - and a sliding doors moment for Spurs. One way or another, it will be looked back on as the pivotal moment in their modern history.
Tottenham needed Pochettino to leave after an alarming decline over the previous 12 months, but the cold brutality of his dismissal, and subsequent controversial appointment of Mourinho, was a risk that is beginning to look reckless. The Portuguese has got off to a bad start in north London.
Season so far
In hindsight, Pochettino telling reporters in July that he might have resigned had Spurs won the Champions League was a warning sign. He looked jaded through the first four months of 2019/20, emotionally drained by years of Levy's tight purse strings and unable to motivate his players for another push for the top four.
The Argentine's emotional exhaustion was contagious, and Tottenham had slumped to 14th by the time of his dismissal, taking just 25 points from their last 24 Premier League games. Pochettino's football had lost its intensity. The press had disappeared, the full-backs no longer bombed forward, and the midfield was a confused mess.
Fast forward four months and, well, not much has changed. Tottenham have won 27 points (and conceded 22 goals) from 17 games under the new boss. Add to that a 4-0 aggregate defeat to RB Leipzig in the Champions League, and it's safe to say Mourinho has failed thus far.
He was supposed to bring stability, defensive resilience, and ruthlessness. He was at least supposed to begin implementing a new tactical strategy in preparation for a better 2020/21.
Instead, Spurs are without direction and pundits' worst fears have seemingly been confirmed: Mourinho's tactics are out-dated, his bullish man-management style is ill-suited to the modern footballer, and his us-against-the-world trick has become Jose-against-the-world.
But perhaps we are too quick to judge. Mourinho hasn't joined a club mid-season since Porto in January 2002 and his cliquey, insular style of football needs at least a summer of bonding before it gets results.
Surely he deserves a transfer window and a full pre-season before opinions are rigidly formed. Unfortunately, the Premier League's hiatus means Mourinho probably won't get one.
There has scarcely been anything to celebrate this season.
The brightest period was Mourinho's honeymoon, when a succession of high-scoring wins in November and December hinted that the Portuguese was a changed man. Dele Alli briefly sparkled while Giovani Lo Celso announced himself as a key player. His loan deal being made permanent in January was the best news Spurs fans had all year.
Steven Bergwijn has also impressed in 2020, plus Japhet Tanganga and Harry Winks have been surprise success stories under Mourinho. Only Son Heung-Min can be proud of his performances both before and after the manager switch.
The 7-2 defeat at home to Bayern Munich was devastating, and the moment any hope of a Pochettino-led revival died. In fairness to Spurs, Bayern were ruthless, scoring 70% of their shots on target and only out-shooting the hosts by 19 to 15. But the score line was enough to crush Tottenham spirits.
More recently, Spurs were on a run of five defeats and one draw from their last six before the suspension, which included crashing out of the Champions League and FA Cup, the latter on penalties to Norwich City. For some, this latest run was enough for their fragile belief in Mourinho's methods to fall apart.
Other lowlights include Harry Kane's injuries and Mourinho's public humiliation of Tanguy Ndombele, which came after the Frenchman went missing in a 1-1 draw against Burnley. The first half of that game was perhaps the worst performance of any team in 2019/20 - and Mourinho deserves a far bigger portion of the blame for that than any single player.
What they can achieve in 19/20
Spurs are only seven points off fourth, so if the Premier League gets back underway they will certainly be in contention for a Champions League spot, priced at9.00 with Betfair Exchange. However, the break is likely to have done Chelsea's young players more good than the Spurs squad, meaning a Europa League place is a more likely outcome for Mourinho's side.
They are also out of all the cups, and so the main priority ought to be putting in some statement performances. Mourinho needs a couple of defensively resilient displays to create a template for next season; upcoming home ties against Manchester United and Arsenal present him with the perfect opportunity to reset.
What next: Summer transfers & 2020/21
If the rumour mill is to be believed, Levy has given Mourinho free reign of transfer business. Spurs are reportedly in for 34-year-old Diego Godin, suggesting they will be looking for older, ready-made stars to catapult them to title contenders.
That all depends on whether Levy is prepared to finally spend above asking price to secure the right targets, and whether these two headstrong characters can get along. It promises to be a busy, and era-defining, transfer window at Tottenham.
Spurs fans could scarcely have imagined a worse season. Not only did they lose Pochettino, complete with a painfully slow process of realising he had to go, but they then endured months of infuriating stagnation under Mourinho.
Hope is far from lost, of course, and yet the hiatus came at a time when faith in the Portuguese was already on the wane. Tottenham supporters will wish 2019/20 never happened.