Derby defeat exposes Tottenham’s midfield weakness


On Sunday afternoon, Jose Mourinho witnessed his Tottenham team get comprehensively beaten by one of his former clubs Chelsea.

Switching to a formation more familiar with the Chelsea players under Antonio Conte, the visitors emerged 2-0 victors in North London thanks to a first half double from Willian.

Failing to create any meaningful chances or get close to Chelsea for much of the affair, Tottenham and their fans left the fixture disillusioned within a performance reminiscent of the problems apparent before Mourinho took over.

The glaring weakness in the first half of the fixture was Spurs’ inability to control possession. By deploying an extra centre-back, Frank Lampard had ensured his team would be able to dictate play comfortably in their own half before finding Mateo Kovacic and N’Golo Kante, who expertly avoided any pressure upon them to feed the ball further forward or out wide to the wing-backs.

In comparison, the main sound heard within the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, apart from that of the travelling Chelsea continents cheers, was the moans and groans of Spurs fans frustrated by their sides inability to retain possession of the ball.

The pivot of Eric Dier and Moussa Sissoko when countered by the Kovacic – Kante pairing represented a huge weakness for Tottenham. Despite being a willing dribbler of the ball into forward areas, France international Sissoko is often found lacking when trying to feed the ball into feet of the front four.

Alongside this, the stubbornness or perhaps inability of Dier to find decisive passes meant that often possession was only recycled around the backline before finding the boot of Paulo Gazzaniga to clear long up the pitch.

Lampard’s tactics were questioned after his team’s victory with the former England midfielder explaining the advantages of playing the system against Tottenham:

“Watching Tottenham, they’re playing very well. They’ve got a lot of players who can run in behind and cause you problems. Having an extra centre back gives you protection against that especially the athletic centre backs that we have.

The most important factor in my thinking was what it could bring us offensively and in terms of controlling the ball. It allowed us to get Mason Mount and Willian slightly inside behind Tammy so we had an element of protection but also it allowed us to have loads of control of the ball.”

It remains to be seen how Mourinho intends to rectify this weakness. The returning Tanguy Ndombele could be one solution. The 22-year-old looked assured when entering the pitch for the final 15 minutes, completing multiple take-ons and displaying glimpses of why Tottenham broke their transfer record to sign the Frenchman in July.

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Commonly, the Mourinho model is recognised as having a defensive midfielder which explains Dier’s extended run in the side. He has already previously expressed that he doesn’t see Sissoko as a central midfielder predominantly whilst Harry Winks and Tanguy Ndombele although good players do not fit this purpose.

Some links to Nemanja Matic, a player utilised by Mourinho in this role at Chelsea and Manchester United, have surfaced although this seems unlikely. The Portuguese manager has repeatedly spoken about his happiness with the current squad yet his two defeats have come against two of the supposed ‘top six’ and his former sides mentioned above.

A connection to Lille and their sporting director Luis Campos have also been made in the potential pursuit of midfielder Boubakary Soumare. Having already taken assistant manager Joao Sacramento and goalkeeping Nuno Santos when assembling his backroom team in North London, Mourinho may return for Soumare who represents the defensive midfielder he so often craves within his system.

Whether January reinforcements arrive or the decision is made to use his existing squad to solve the problem, the current issues within central midfield will surely have to be resolved should Tottenham wants to achieve their ambitions of pushing for a top four place whilst stay competitive in the cup competitions.

With a busy festive period now well underway, we await to see whether any immediate changes are made when Brighton visit the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Boxing Day.


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