Same result, different game: Mourinho is not magic, you know, as Tottenham manager’s powers fade

Dan Kilpatrick
·3-min read

Same result, different game. Tottenham threw away another lead and more precious points as their hopes of a top-four finish were dealt a potentially fatal blow by a 3-1 defeat to Manchester United.

If you missed the action at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, fear not: this Spurs display was alarmingly familiar, making it 18 points dropped from winning positions this season.

Given their tendency to lose leads and United’s to launch stirring comebacks, it was hardly surprising when goals from Fred, Edinson Cavani and Mason Greenwood completed a second-half turnaround for the visitors after Heung-min Son’s fired Spurs ahead shortly before the interval.

Son’s goal was mired in controversy, coming soon after Cavani had a strike ruled out by the referee Chris Kavanagh, in consultation with the VAR, for a Scott McTominay foul on the South Korean in the build-up.

It mattered little in the end, as United roared back after the interval. Their second half was just as characteristic as Tottenham’s.

The defeat leaves Spurs six points shy of fourth-place and all but certain to miss out on Champions League football for a second consecutive season, dealing a hammer blow to Daniel Levy’s business plan.

Such an outcome would surely spell the end for manager Jose Mourinho at the end of the season - or sooner - even if his Spurs side can arrest their latest slump by beating Manchester City in the EFL Cup Final in a fortnight.

Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images
Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

Substitutions sums up Mourinho decline

The two managers’ second-half substitutions spoke volumes about their differing mentalities and ultimately underlined why many believe Mourinho’s magic has faded for good.

After Fred’s close-range equaliser made it 1-1, the game was finely poised, with United having the lion’s share of possession but Spurs continuing to look threatening on the counter-attack.

United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer acted decisively, sending on Greenwood for Marcus Rashford.

Mourinho, meanwhile, opted for conservative changes, introducing Moussa Sissoko for Giovani Lo Celso and then Erik Lamela for Tanguy Ndombele, ignoring four-time Champions League winner Gareth Bale, Dele Alli and second-striker Carlos Vinicius who all remained on the bench.

Solskjaer’s decisiveness was rewarded when Greenwood crossed for Cavani to plant a diving header beyond Hugo Lloris at the far post and the teenager wrapped up the win with a fine third in stoppage-time.

Mourinho, meanwhile, only called for Bale after United’s second goal. It was too little, too late.

Once again, the Spurs manager was ruled by fear and failed to push his side forward and exploit a United team who looked there for the taking at times.

Fortune favours the brave and Mourinho is anything but.

POOL/AFP via Getty Images
POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Dier’s return prompts no improvement

The omission of Davinson Sanchez was no surprise after the Colombian’s horror show at Newcastle last weekend but Mourinho’s decision to recall Eric Dier was unexpected.

The England international last started a League game in a 2-1 defeat to West Ham in February after being dropped for a string of mistakes.

Dier was paired with Joe Rodon in a back two which had previously started just once together – in the 0-0 draw at Chelsea in November, which feels a lifetime ago – and it showed, as Spurs produced another loose defensive display, punctuated by errors.

For all three United goals, there were defenders out of position or simply failing to do the basics.

Their lack of organisation ultimately falls on the manager and Mourinho’s chopping and changing of personnel is clearly not helping his defenders gel.

The Portuguese has used 16 different defensive combinations this season and none has looked effective since December.

There is every chance that next week will be Toby Alderweireld’s turn next to Rodon as Mourinho desperately searches for the right formula in an increasingly random series of selection calls.

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