Tottenham failed to record a single shot on target against Bournemouth on Thursday. They have created only one big chance in their last three matches, and scored five goals in five matches since the restart.

But what is most damning isn’t the statistics or the lack of ideas in the final third. It’s that the Tottenham players can be seen consistently throwing their arms out wide in desperation and confusion, frustrated by the lack of options when the ball is at their feet.

Jose Mourinho doesn’t construct attacks, instead inviting his forwards to improvise their movements. That tends to work when allowed to play on the counterattack as the Portuguese prefers because the best counters are always free-form problem solving.

It also tends to work when the team possess self-belief; witness the quick start and intelligent movement, for all of 30 minutes, against Sheffield United in early July. But if confidence dips, limbs freeze up and the mind becomes cloudy.

When faced with a deep-lying defence, modern footballers need carefully pre-structured attacking moves to pull their opponent out of shape. The one-touch football at Liverpool, Manchester City, and increasingly at Arsenal might look ‘creative’, but those moves were constructed long ago on the training field and committed to muscle memory.

This is the essential issue facing Tottenham under Mourinho; it is the fundamental reason why he cannot move with the times.

It had started so well. Those early wins in November and December saw Spurs play in a complex, possession-based 2-3-5, suggesting Mourinho had finally adapted alongside new assistant manager Joao Sacramento.

Perhaps Tottenham were simply running on the afterglow of Mauricio Pochettino’s attacking tactics, because since the restart Spurs are classic Mourinho. For an attacking shape built on improvisation rather than collective patterns, flaws are localised to individuals, not systems. Continue reading

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