The life cycle for hiring Jose Mourinho as a manager has been fairly well defined over the years.
First you win big. In his first two seasons at the club, he won Chelsea’s first two top titles in over 50 years. He won two Serie A titles and a Champions League in two years with Inter. In his second season at Real Madrid, he was the most dominant team in La Liga history. In his sophomore year at Chelsea, he won another league title. He has achieved Manchester United’s only top two result since Alex Ferguson’s retirement in his sophomore season at Old Trafford.
Then the drama begins. At some point – usually in his third season with a club – the results are a little weaker. Players also no longer respond to the intensity of Mourinho’s demands, bad results creeping into the picture – a frustrating late loss to a minnow here, a loss to a heavyweight there – and rumors of discord between the players wafted from the locker room. pick up speed soon. Mourinho is getting more and more nervous with the media. The club (usually via anonymous sources) and their fans express dismay at his lineup selection, often in their lack of confidence in a young hotshot perspective.
Finally he goes. Usually he goes away with a large buyout in hand.
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When you hire Mourinho, you sign up for trophies, a heavy and immediate investment in player talent – from Michael Essien and Didier Drogba at Chelsea to Paul Pogba at Manchester United – and a more dramatic than usual exit.
However, his time at Tottenham Hotspur followed a different script. For one thing, while the club has more cash and talent than most of its peers, it lacks the financial (or roster) superiority that most of Mourinho’s previous employers boast. And due in part to the impact of the pandemic, the club’s moves have been more calculated and less free since Mourinho’s hiring in November 2019: they have loan deals for Gareth Bale and Carlos Vinicius, while their biggest transfer spending has been geared towards players like Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg , Sergio Reguilon (although Real Madrid added a buyback clause) and Steven Bergwijn.
Another difference? Well, Mourinho didn’t win big.
If attackers Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min were healthy, Spurs were a perfectly solid team. From the start of the project restart last summer (which ended the delayed 2019-20 season) through mid-December – a span of roughly 21 games for each club – they scored 43 points, which for most in the league was equal to Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. They also reached the league cup final; A surprise from City on April 25th would bring the club its first major trophy since 2008.
Even so, they suffered an embarrassing breakdown in the Europa League round of 16 in early March, and despite solid recent league form, they are three points behind the Champions League pace for the next season. That initial string of wins and trophies that you sign up for – the reason the later drama pays off for so many clubs – didn’t materialize.
When the players return from international break later this week, Spurs will embark on one of the most important tracks of their time as budding football heavyweights. With the League Cup clash against City ahead and the remaining league competitions with Manchester United (April 11), Everton (April 17) and Leicester City (May 23), the season could end with a trophy and Champions League qualifier, or they could end with none.
While we wait to see how things develop, it may be worthwhile to see how Mourinho teams take shape statistically, where Spurs have been missing so far, and what things look like when his terms of office fall apart.
First, let’s clear up a misunderstanding about the “special”.
While Mourinho has long been associated with the word “pragmatism” and his first champion at Chelsea allowed an forever unbelievable 15 league goals all season (in 38 games) his best teams of the 2010s outperformed on both ends of the field. His 2011/12 Real Madrid team posted a La Liga record of 121 goals, 3.2 per game, and in the worst case scenario, most of his Real Madrid, Chelsea (second term) and Manchester United teams had above average shot frequency and quality numbers.
Perform data from statistics. The color coding is based on the values for the Big 5 leagues in Europe from 2010-11 to 2019-20. Green is good, red is bad.
It turns out that combining Mourinho’s pragmatic nature with otherworldly offensive talent works pretty well – a top-aged Cristiano Ronaldo with Angel Di Maria and Mesut Ozil at Real Madrid, Eden Hazard and Diego Costa at Chelsea. Imagine that. While his focus has always been on the defensive structure and he will never use too many numbers to attack if he doesn’t have to, he also doesn’t necessarily stand in the way of superior offensive talents.
Well … at least not at first. The longer Mourinho stayed at Chelsea and United, the more their offensive returns diminished. His teams became a little more bunkered, the number of shots decreased, and the fact that his teams weren’t pushing for the length of the field meant that the pressure didn’t result in as many easy scoring opportunities.
Towards the end of a given Mourinho term, attack and pressure statistics tend to fade.
– In Mourinhos last year at Real Madrid, Los Blancos From 2.9 more possessions per game in the attacking third than by their opponent to 0.9, from 50% of their possessions in the attacking third to 46%, from 9.9 passes per defensive action (PPDA) to 11.9 and from possession 59 % of the time to 56%.
– At Chelsea, his blues rose from 3.2 possession in the opposing third in his first year to 0.6 fewer in his third. They finished 47% of their possessions in the attacking third to 43%, while the opponents finished 35% of their possessions there at 39%.
– At Manchester United, the attacking third start-up margin increased from +1.5 in its first year to +0.0 in its third year, and the possession-end margin increased from + 9.0% to + 1 , 2%. Your PPDA slipped from 10.0 to 11.9.
These shifts seem pretty small for the most part, but they flip the results. In tight games – basically games that ended with zero or one goal – Real Madrid rose from an unsustainable average of 2.5 per game to 1.6 in their third in their second season, while Chelsea rose from 2.0 unsustainable low 0.9 rose.
These problems did not occur in every game, of course, but they did occur with increasing frequency towards the end of each of his tenures. For example, late in his third year at Real Madrid, there were the following results:
– Borussia Dortmund 4, Real Madrid 1 (April 24, 2013): In the 17 minutes or so in which this Champions League semi-final game was tied, RMA averaged just 0.05 shots per possession. Once back, they could not put pressure on and only launched five of 109 possessions in the attacking third.
– Espanyol 1, Real Madrid 1 (May 11, 2013): Los Blancos had 70% of the ball possession and tried more shots, but they averaged only 0.05 xG per shot and started again only five possessions in the attacking third.
– Real Sociedad 3, Real Madrid 3 (May 26, 2013): A goal from Gonzalo Higuain dominated the early game, but while RMA held the lead for 80 minutes, they averaged just 0.09 shots per possession and started just six possessions in the attacking third. RSO overtook them 28: 11 and finally found an equalizer in stoppage time.
It was the same story towards the end at Chelsea and Man United.
– Stoke 1, Chelsea 0 (November 17, 2015): Chelsea had taken seven shots with just 0.07 xG / shot when Stoke scored early in the second half. Chelsea averaged just 0.06 xG / shot from there, started just five possessions in the attacking third, and fell.
– Spurs 0, Chelsea 0 (November 29, 2015): Chelsea let Spurs have the majority of possession (as is often the case with Mourinho against top teams) but failed to counter it and ended the game with just five total shots at 0.06 xG / shot.
– Leicester City 2, Chelsea 1 (December 14, 2015): The eventual league champions gave Chelsea 65% possession, but the Blues managed a horrific 0.03 shots per possession and 0.07 xG / shot – a totally non-existent attack for the roughly 33 minutes the game was tied. When Chelsea came up with some ideas in attack, they were 2-0 down. (Mourinho was released on December 17.)
– Manchester United 2, Arsenal 2 (5th December 2018): Different club, same story. In the roughly 85 minutes that the game was tied, United only shot seven shots with just 0.04 xG per shot. They exploded back twice but couldn’t create anything until then.
– Valencia 2, Manchester United 1 (December 12, 2018): In the 16 minutes that this Champions League group stage game was tied, United tried no shots despite 53% possession. And again, they were only able to build traction 2-0.
Liverpool 3, Manchester United 1 (December 16, 2018): This match was drawn 0-0 or 1-1 for approximately 64 minutes. During that time United attempted two shots at 0.03 xG per shot. Liverpool in the same period: 28 shots, 68% possession. (Mourinho was canned on December 18.)
If that kind of defeat sounds familiar to Spurs fans, there’s a pretty clear reason for it.
Basically, Mourinho teams lose games this way.
Team averages in Siegen, Europe’s Big 5 leagues (2020-21): 0.14 shots per possession, 0.15 xG per shot
Tottenham Hotspur wins: 0.13 and 0.15, respectively
Team average losses, Big 5: 0.11 and 0.11
Tottenham Hotspur in the event of losses: 0.09 and 0.09
With their victories, Spurs fit a “normal” profile of a team in the Big 5 leagues in Europe. In the event of a loss, they are more gentle in attack than the “normal” losing team. Again, these don’t seem like much of a difference, but they add up.
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Tottenham averaged 0.05 shots per possession in the first 60 minutes and a total of 0.08 in a 2-0 loss to Leicester City on December 20. On January 28th against Liverpool they only managed three shots total (0.03 per possession). They were at 0.08 per possession in a 1-0 loss to Brighton, 0.07 in a 2-1 loss to Arsenal and 0.05 in a 2-1 loss to West Ham United.
The Europa League collapse against Dinamo Zagreb had a similar theme. Spurs averaged just 0.05 shots per possession in the first 60 minutes, while taking a 2-0 lead in the first leg. Dinamo eventually scored twice to force extra time and then quickly hit again in extra time. From there, Spurs finally found the accelerator, but thanks in part to the incredible work of Dinamo goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic, it was too late.
This occasional offensive disappearance has been associated with a lack of extreme pressure. Spurs allow 13.1 PPDA (10th in the league) and allow opponents 5.3 passes per possession (11th); You start only 5.7 possessions per game in the attacking third (17th), while the opponents own an average of 7.8 (18th).
To their credit, Spurs have played better in eight games since a horrific stretch of six losses in February. After that, they won a total of six out of eight, scoring 18 goals. Gareth Bale has started to find his form in fifth gear, which gives Spurs an extra offensive opportunity beyond “Son and Kane do something amazing” for which there hasn’t been a Plan B all season. Also, rumors of player dissatisfaction and / or Mourinho’s anger towards the media have been kept to a minimum. As long as this is the case, we are not necessarily in the Mourinho End Times.
Of course, the loss of Arsenal in small quantities and the collapse of Zagreb in March also happened. It’s been a kind of “two steps forward, one back” month, and there are serious hopes for a league cup win or a Champions League qualification.
This also applies to familiarity with the problem. Despite all of Mourinho’s innovations over the years – particularly in the area of ”tactical periodization” which has been so well received over time that teams from other sports have adopted its principles – he never had a big Plan B attack. Not everyone can stop Plan A, but when someone does, Mourinho just seems to trust his players to find out. It doesn’t always happen.
What makes Spurs even stronger this year is that, as you can see in the table above, their defensive magic has worn off to a certain extent. Spurs do not allow many high-quality looks, but opponents to take more shots than her. They are one of only two teams in the Big 5 leagues in Europe that averages more than 1.6 points per game despite firing fewer shots than their opponents (the other: Everton) – they are the best of the shot hungry Teams – but in this era of football, creativity owned, and full-length pressure are the most direct routes to victory. If you don’t offer these things, your ceiling will simply be lower.
In the last five league games, however, they have fired 52 shots at the 47 of the opponents, scored 8.9 xG to 4.6, averaged 7 possessions per game from the attacking third (not great, but better) and only one Mourinho Special Suffered loss. If this is the start of a trend, Spurs could still get some more out of the 2020-21 season. If it was just a good month and the regression hits soon, Tottenham’s Mourinho experiment probably won’t see a third season.