Why Mourinho failed at ManYoo

Yesterday, Baada and I decided to try and record one of our recent WhatsApp conversations and release it as a podcast. I was in charge of tech, and I messed up massively. I was using Skype, and for whatever reason, it appears that my phone picked the microphone input from the phone itself and not from the AirPods I was using, so my voice came very faintly. Baada’s voice came well, though.

Leading up to the podcast, both of us had done our homework, so it’s a pity that it didn’t come out well and we can’t release it. The topic of the podcast was what kind of strategy, tactics and formations Jose Mourinho will use at Spurs. As part of our preparation, we had looked at the formations that he had used in each of his previous six clubs (Porto, Chelsea (1), Inter, Real Madrid, Chelsea (2) and Manchester United). There was one clear trend.

There are a number of positions that Mourinho prefers, and we were able to identify players in his first five clubs who occupied that position. And when it came to ManYoo, we drew a blank. This happened repeatedly as we talked through his possible formations and possible personnel to use at Spurs.

For example, Mourinho has a history of playing a Number Ten, and giving him a largely free role, encouraging him to get forward and score. Deco at Porto, Lampard at Chelsea 1, Sneijder at Inter, Ozil at Madrid, Hazard at Chelsea 2. And nobody at ManYoo! Through the Mourinho years, ManYoo didn’t have a proper Number Ten (and they don’t have one now) – it’s almost like a Number Ten wasn’t part of the ManYoo school of playing.

Then, people like to talk about Mourinho parking the bus, but an interesting feature of his game is that he uses a defensive midfielder who is good on the ball. Costinha at Porto. Makelele at Chelsea (he’s not that ultra-defensive midfielder commentators make him out to be – read Michael Cox’s Mixer to know more about him). Motta, Cambiasso and Zanetti at Inter. Xabi Alonso at Madrid. Nemanja Matic at Chelsea the second time round.

And again ManYoo didn’t have a comparable player. Mourinho took Matic along, but he didn’t do particularly well there (maybe he was past his prime?).

Then Mourinho likes a box-to-box midfielder who doesn’t mind doing dirty work. Essien in Chelsea 1, Khedira at Real. Ramires in Chelsea 2. Again ManYoo lacked such a player by the time Mourinho arrived (had he taken over earlier, maybe he might have used Paul Scholes in the role).

You can go on.

The remarkable thing is that Spurs actually have good personnel for most of the roles that Mourinho likes. They have an excellent Number Nine in Harry Kane. Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Hyong-Min Son are all capable of being the Number Ten (Alli is most likely to play there). Moussa Sissoko will be the box-to-box hardworking midfielder. Harry Winks can actually play the ball from central midfield. And so on.

So I expect Mourinho to do better with Spurs than he did with Manyoo. Even if he doesn’t have the budget to buy players of his choice in the next window.

Spurs right to sack Pochettino?

A few months back, I built my “football club elo by manager” visualisation. Essentially, we take the week-by-week Premier League Elo ratings from ClubElo and overlay it with managerial tenures.

A clear pattern emerges – a lot of Premier League sackings have been consistent with clubs going down significantly in terms of Elo Ratings. For example, we have seen that Liverpool sacked Rafa Benitez, Kenny Dalglish (in 2012) and Brendan Rodgers all at the right time, and that similarly Manchester United sacked Jose Mourinho when he brought them back to below where he started.

And now the news comes in that Spurs have joined the party, sacking long-time coach Mauricio Pochettino. What I find interesting is the timing of the sacking – while international breaks are usually a popular time to change managers (the two week gap in fixtures gives a club some time to adjust), most sackings happen in the first week of the international break.

The Pochettino sacking is surprising in that it has come towards the end of the international break, giving the club four days before their next fixture (a derby at the struggling West Ham). However, the Guardian reports that Spurs are close to hiring Jose Mourinho, and that might explain the timing of the sacking.

So were Spurs right in sacking Pochettino, barely six months after he took them to a Champions League final? Let’s look at the Spurs story under Pochettino using Elo ratings. 

 

 

 

 

Pochettino took over in 2014 after an underwhelming 2013-14 when the club struggled under Andre Villas Boas and then Tim Sherwood. Initially, results weren’t too promising, as he took them from a 1800 rating down to 1700.

However, chairman Daniel Levy’s patience paid off, and the club mounted a serious challenge to Leicester in the 2015-16 season before falling away towards the end of the season, finishing third behind Arsenal. As the Elo shows, the improvement continued, as the club remained in Champions League places through the course of Pochettino’s reign.

Personally, the “highlight” of Pochettino’s reign was Spurs’ 4-1 demolition of Liverpool at Wembley in October 2017, a game I happened to watch at the stadium. And as per the Elo ratings the club plateaued shortly after that.

If that plateau had continued,  I suppose Pochettino would have remained in his job, giving the team regular Champions League football. This season, however, has been a disaster.

Spurs are 13 points below what they had scored in comparable fixtures last season, and unlikely to finish in the top six even. Their Elo has also dropped below 1850 for the first time since 2016-17. While that is still higher than where Pochettino started off at, the precipitous drop in recent times has meant that the club has possibly taken the right call in sacking Pochettino.

If Mourinho does replace him (it looks likely, as per the Guardian), it will present a personal problem for me – for over a decade now, Tottenham have been my “second team” in the top half of the Premier League, behind Liverpool. That cannot continue if Mourinho takes over. I’m wondering who to shift my allegiance to – it will have to be either Leicester or (horror of horrors) Chelsea!

Analyzing #LFC

It’s been yet another frustrating season as a Liverpool FC fan. You might say that this can be said but just about every season, but unlike in the last two seasons when we played shit and there was no hope, we have actually been playing well this season, and just haven’t been able to convert that into goals. I didn’t watch the loss to Fulham and I agree we  were absolute shit against Spurs, but King Kenny’s statement that we “deserved” to have won every game apart from that Spurs game does have some merit.

I don’t remember the exact stats right now, but two things stand out. LFC has the maximum number of shots that have hit the post or crossbar this season (eighteen, if I’m not wrong). And we also have the lowest ratio in terms of goals to shots on goal. So basically it seems like we’ve been doing pretty well getting the ball into the D, but have been quite wasteful from there. The other notable stat that comes to mind is that we have conceded the least goals this season among all teams (13, I think), and that includes the time when Johnson and Agger were injured, when we had become somewhat porous. Now, with a settled back five, we seem to be doing quite well defensively despite the season-long loss of Lucas Leiva.

Despite the attacking opportunities and number of shots on goal that we’ve got, I’ve felt throughout this season that there has been something missing about this team. There’s something disjointed about the attacking moves. There’s a lack of cohesion. Back when we had Xabi, we had a natural route to switch flanks on the attack – simply pass the ball back to Xabi who will control the game. Unfortunately, good though he is, Adam is not in the same class, and so this route doesn’t seem to be that fluid.

For the first month, I thought the missing piece in the jigsaw puzzle was Gerrard, and though he was good (against Man U, etc.) after seeing him play I realized he was not the answer I was looking for. To be absolutely frank, I don’t think his absence from the team (from a purely sporting perspective, without taking into account leadership and morale) has had that much of an impact.

The win against Aston Villa came quite easy (after the couple of early goals, the game was won on autopilot), but I think the big gain from the game was the performance of Jonjo Shelvey. Of course, he wasn’t involved too much, but the little I saw of him (including that back-heel that set up the first goal) showed immense promise, and hopefully he can be developed into a fine advanced midfielder. Speaking of which…

So, I think, the missing piece in the jigsaw is a clever advanced playmaker. A classic number ten, as they would call him in South America. Someone like Juan Roman Riquelme, or Mesut Ozil, or even Iniesta. Someone who plays high up the pitch, and can distribute intelligently and pass accurately. It seems now that Adam has taken on this role, but he seems a bit too slow at times, and not accurate enough. I think he is suited for a more withdrawn playmaking role, and a good number ten in front of him can do a great job of tying the team together.

It is for this reason that I was sad to see Raul Meireles go, for I thought he was someone who was quite capable of being developed for that role (I quite enjoyed how the Arsenal game transformed after he came on). Gerrard has the drive and ambition and pace and all that, but I don’t think he’s smart enough for that. Shelvey might be developed there but for now he’s too young. I’ve seen Henderson play there but again he seems to play much more like Gerrard and much less like an advanced playmaker.

That leaves two players in the squad who are capable of playing that role, but both are away on loan, and both displayed horrible form when they played for LFC. Hopefully the loan spell will help either or both of Joe Cole and Alberto Aquilani to get back to form, and hope that King Kenny and co realize that the advanced playmaker role is the one that they’ve been sorely missing, and are able to keep either or both of these two when it comes to next season.

For now, though, there are other worries, with Suarez having been banned for eight games. I guess the season will continue to frustrate.