Tottenham form is not 'Spursy' but defending must improve - Mourinho

By Sports Desk October 21, 2020

Jose Mourinho has bemoaned Tottenham's defending from set-pieces but insists the draw against West Ham was a one-off and not evidence his side are "Spursy".

Returning to action after the international break, prior to which they had thrashed Manchester United 6-1, Mourinho's men looked to be coasting to another big win at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday.

They led the Hammers 3-0 early in the first half and, despite failing to add to their tally, maintained that advantage into the final 10 minutes.

But a remarkable finish saw Fabian Balbuena pull one back and then Davinson Sanchez head into his own net before a stunning Manuel Lanzini strike deep into stoppage time rescued a 3-3 draw for David Moyes' side.

Spurs dropped two points in the final seconds against Newcastle United, too, with a contentious penalty award following a free-kick.

And another set-piece on the opening weekend saw Dominic Calvert-Lewin head a winner for Everton, meaning Tottenham are yet to win at home in the Premier League this season.

But while Mourinho acknowledges the need to improve, speaking ahead of the Europa League clash with LASK, the coach dismissed the idea his team are "Spursy", a phrase used by rival fans to mock Tottenham's perceived propensity to collapse.

"That denomination is not important for me, the past is not important for me," Mourinho told reporters. "The future is, of course, important for me.

"What can I say? We are a team in evolution. I believe that nobody has played better than us with the ball, which is a big evolution from last season.

"We are a very exciting team to watch, I believe. That is very important and that's the DNA that we want to have.

"Is that enough to win matches? No. You have the proof that we have eight points when we played so amazing in every match apart from the Everton match.

"Southampton, Man United, Newcastle and West Ham, we played amazing football. This is very difficult to do. But, of course, we need to play for a result and we have to learn how to do it.

"What happened [on Sunday] is a bit out of context with what has happened this season.

"Against Southampton, we were losing and we were strong enough to change the result. Against Man United, the worst thing happened to us, which was after one minute we were losing, and we were strong enough to change that result.

"Against Newcastle, we were solid, playing amazing, solid, and what happened was one of the beauties of VAR this season.

"So this game is completely out of context. I believe that winning 3-0 in minute 80, we can play 50 more matches and it's not going to happen again.

"So I don't want to be sticking on this and [have] stories about 'Spursy' and this kind of thing.

"We just need to defend better from set-pieces. Even defensively, the team is playing very well. We've conceded one single goal from open play, against Southampton, one.

"Apart from that: penalties, free-kicks, VAR goals. We are quite solid."

Mourinho would only confirm Sanchez - the scorer of the own goal - as a starter against LASK, with the defender speaking alongside his coach, who added: "The only thing I ask is that you don't ask him about his amazing goal on Sunday."

Sanchez said: "Of course, [the West Ham draw] was hard to take, we know that. It had to be better. In the same way, we have enough experience to take it and not repeat it."

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  • Is Thiago Alcantara ill-suited to Liverpool's style of play? Is Thiago Alcantara ill-suited to Liverpool's style of play?

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    But the fact is, Liverpool's record in Premier League games he has featured in is quite poor, with only one of those six ending in a victory.

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    One of Hamann's major reservations related to Thiago's desire to dictate play and how he might, in the long run, negatively impact Liverpool's effectiveness off the ball.

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    The supply line

    Then there's the concerns relating to Thiago's style of play potentially impacting supply to the frontline. Well, the Reds average 18.7 shots per game when he plays (up from 14.9 without him).

    There is also no damning evidence to suggest Thiago isn't looking to feed the forwards either, after all, he passed to Mohamed Salah 11 times (a joint high) against Manchester United last weekend.

    He has picked out Salah 36 times in their 365 minutes on the pitch together – so, once every 10.1 minutes. Although that's less frequent than he passes to Trent Alexander-Arnold (once per every 8.2 minutes) and Andy Robertson (8.8 minutes), it shows he is supplying the Reds' most-threatening forward regularly.

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    Additionally, his 14.9 passes into final third of the pitch per 90 minutes is second only to Jordan Henderson (16.2) among Liverpool players this term – Thiago beats him, and every other Red, in terms of successful passes in the attacking third every game, however (25.8, compared to Henderson's 20.5).

    "He's not that type of player"

    It's fair to say Thiago probably isn't best known for what he brings to teams off the ball, but despite some seemingly questioning him in this department, he appears to be at least pulling his weight.

    In fact, he's averaging marginally more tackles per 90 minutes than Henderson (1.5 over 1.4), while no one in the Liverpool team is intercepting opposition passes as frequently as the Barcelona product (2.8 per 90 mins).

    On top of that, he's ranked third in the squad for duel involvements (14.7 per 90 mins) – while not necessarily an indicator of excellence on its own, that should at the very least dispel any questions regarding his work rate.

    On an individual level when you look at the data, Thiago doesn't appear to be out of place stylistically. While he may occasionally spend more time on the ball than some of his midfield contemporaries, he possesses the kind of technical wizardry that arguably no other Liverpool player has and that is surely a positive rather than a negative.

    He's also clearly a hard-working player who offers plenty off the ball. So, while the Reds are going through a tricky patch at the moment, Thiago's abilities should be embraced rather than looked upon with suspicion.

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