At the time of writing this (09/01/2021), Tottenham Hotspur are currently placed 4th in the 2020-21 Premier League.
So far this season, we have seen noticeable changes to his system that he adapted over the years. But we’ve even seen big changes from him since last season and the Pierre Emile-Hojbjerg signing meant that he could be a little more adventurous with his tactical set-up. The wing-backs benefit from this as they can now both get further forward down the flanks. Also, another big change that has football fans talking is the Harry Kane role. Him dropping even deeper this season has seen improved link-up play between him and the line behind him, allowing the likes of Son Heung-min attack the area vacated by Harry Kane.
The football so far has been impressive for the most part with probably the biggest result being the 6-1 victory away to Manchester United. At the time of writing, Spurs are averaging 1.42xG per game, Harry Kane is getting 0.55xG per game on average whilst boasting an impressive goal contribution – 10 goals 11 assists – so it’s clear to see his new role hasn’t affected his scoring record or ability to get into scoring chances.
As always, Jose has been pragmatic this season. Depending on the opposition, his team has been seen defending higher/lower. At times we’ve seen an increase in the pressing intensity and even change of shape. Spurs have lined-up in a 433 (4141 DM) but we are going to be looking at the main principles I have seen on display so far in this 2020/21 season.
The 4231 Shape
The signing of Hojbjerg has done wonders. This allows both wings backs to take more risks with their movement, Sissoko also has more freedom is making surging forward runs but Hojbjerg has also brought in a lot of quality on the ball. Jose Mourinho likes to use a double-pivot when building up as this allows them to gain numerical advantage to be the opponents press. This is how they often build their play from defence, using the stagger method – having multiple players occupy different horizontal and vertical lines. Hojbjerg, again, has been key in the build-up playing 942 passes so far which is the 10th most in the league and with an 87.7% completion rate. His ability to switch the ball to either flank hasn't gone unnoticed either and this is one way Tottenham Hotspur can progress up the pitch during their build-up.
Tottenham often look for quick switches down the left, before working the ball centrally for Kane or Heung-Min Son. They attack down the left 38% of the time, as opposed to 28% down the middle and 34% down the right
Spurs slightly favour their left-hand side when attacking but this isn’t exclusive. With Hojbjerg collecting the ball a lot in central areas, Sissoko and Ndombele running at defence when they can and wider players moving in centrally it’s no surprise to see 29% of their action being central
Positional Play & Transition
When Jose’s side win the ball, there’s is usually a heavy focus on playing the ball vertically. With both Sissoko and Ndombele, Jose has players who can dribble and bring the ball forward which he has utilised with Hojbjerg being their protection in case they lose possession. Kane’s new role means he drops deeper than usual and he has become kind of a target man. Not that Spurs continuously kick the ball long to Kane, but with his qualities on the ball and hold up play means Spurs can use him in deeper areas to open up the space for the wide men to make their lateral runs, especially Son who so far has 12 goals to his name. The wingers may make similar movements, as in they like to come in narrow but it’s Son who attacks the space created by Kane more aggressively and the RW, usually Lucas Moura, likes to help out overload the central areas. With all these players operating in central areas, we can see why vertical play is important and a strength. Typically of a Jose team, Tottenham Hotspur also aim to transition very quickly
Tottenham Passing Network from recent game
Passing network created by Matt Trevillion an Football Data Enthusiast, check his work out!
In possession we have seen countless times this season, Kane and Son switching positions and this causes disruption. This special link-up between the two has been rewarding for Spurs, Harry Kane in the Premier League so far has assisted Son 9 times whilst Son has assisted Kane 4 times – incredible! That is 13 goals from the 30 Tottenham Hotspur have scored in the league so far. You can relate this to why Spurs favour their left side a little because this is where the Son/Kane partnership would be operating.
When the two wingers do come inside, this allows the wing-backs to make runs from deeper areas to stretch the opponent. Of course, so many players attacking central areas may become a little predictable to when central areas are congested, the two wing backs usually would offer an outlet out wide to then try and work the ball back into the central areas. But what you may also see is another shape when attacking as the two wingers tuck in so narrowly and Kane dropping deeper, effectively makes two up top and more bodies in the box with players outside the box lurking.
So far in this 2020/21 season, Tottenham Hotspur boast the 2nd best defence in the league and that is because they are difficult to break down. Park the bus? Not exactly. There is a focus on defending as a team so when the ball is lost, all players are asked to get behind the ball. But like mentioned very early in this blog, Jose Mourinho is pragmatic so this can be dependent on the playing style of the opposition.
The defending shape is key to how Spurs counter-attack so it needs to be disciplined. Without the ball, Spurs can be seen to shape up in a 4-5-1 leaving Kane the furthest player but with Son not being too distant from his partner allowing them to transition quickly and effectively as those two players are the star players in this side.
Jose often operates in a mid-block despite people claiming he often parks the bus. The men in the middle of midfield stay close to each other, they remain compact and this reduces the chances of gaps appearing in midfield which could happen if Jose chooses to further his line of engagement and go for a more urgent pressing defensive style. The reason why I mention a more urgent pressing style is because Jose has given us examples, in small doses, that he’s prepared to do so if needed for the better result and examples of this can be witnesses in their impressive 6-1 away win to Manchester United In A Nut Shell
Spurs are very much still a counter attacking team but this season we have seen brilliant patterns of play which proves to be too difficult for defences to handle. Their use of vertical play and quick transitions is a strength that is likely to remain a feature through the season. Though Kane and Son may be recognised as the stars of this team, Hojbjerg has certainly deserved his praise for his role in this side as things seemed to have clicked a little better since his arrival. And lastly, the positional rotation between Kane and Son has been a pleasure to watch this season and seems to have gotten the best out of both so far in this Premier League campaign.
Real Life Comparisons
This is where I find small features that I find important and compared them to real life performances
Goal.com heat map
whoscored.com shots map
FM21 heat and shot map
FM21 Jose Mourinho 4-2-3-1 Spurs Tactic
2nd place finish in Premier League
Team Shape: 4-2-3-1 DM (Double-Pivot)
Mentality: Positive - This can be changed to Balanced depending on the opponent. I tried to be pro-active like Jose himself so against most of the sides when we are favourites I opted for a more positive mentality.
Attacking Width: Had to be set to very narrow here. To try and channel most of my play in central areas for us to play dangerous vertical balls.
Pass Into Space: Compliments counter-attacks.
Underlaps: We want the two wingers to make overlapping runs
Play out of defence: Something I probably didn't speak enough about, but Jose has adapted to playing out of defence
Tempo: Set to higher in a bid to make our transitions happen quickly
Time Wasting: ONLY set because of the Positive mentality. Jose side aren't exactly attacking relentlessly and also game management. At times, we must slow the game down
Shoot On Sight: So far 35% of Spurs shots have been from outside the box
Play For Set-Pieces: I find this actually helped us when making our transitions quick. It also allowed for our big men to get forward to cause trouble on set-pieces
No Regroup!: This had an negative effect on our counter attacking. Well, it made it happen less frequent as we became less interested in actually winning the ball to initiate our counters
Counter: OF COURSE! In order focus on counter movements, this instruction needs to be selected
Distribute It Quickly: Can be removed, I preferred this for the counter attacks
WHY NO MID-BLOCK?!: You may be surprised to hear that actually, this came closer to performing a mid-block than having my defensive lines set to standard. This setting doesn't mean this particular tactic will be pressing high as you can see down below, we defend with all players behind the ball. Dropping any deeper on FM21 invited too much pressure
Defensive Width: I went for force opponents outside as my default/template as I know this is effect in FM21. During matches, this would need to be tweaked if opponents have too much creative freedom out wide or you become under too much pressure with crossess
Pressing and Tackle Harder: Again, this all compliments the counter-attacks on FM21 beautifully. With the Positive mentality, players may leave their defensive position a bit too frequently than Jose would like, but just like him, he have to be pragmatic for the results without losing too much of the realism feel we want from this tactic.
The Players: (if not screenshot or no instructions listed then that position has no instructions)
GK - SWEEPER - DEFEND
DR/DL - Wing Backs - Support - Cross Less Often (Tottenham rarely get crosses into the box)
CD - L - Central Defender - Defend - Stay Wider
CD - R - Ball-Playing Defender - Defend - Stay Wider
DM - L - Half Back - Defend - Take More Risks
DM - R - Volante - Support
AM - L - Inside Forward - Attack - Sit Narrower
AM - C - Advanced Playmaker - Attack - Tackle Harder
AM - R - Inverted Winger - Support - Tackle Harder
CF - Deep Lying Forward - Support - Roam From Position