“Park the bus, park the bus Tottenham Hotspur, playing football the Mourinho way,” taunted the Manchester City fans on their recent visit to North London. Then they conceded goals from debutant Steven Bergwijn and Heung-min Son and it all went a bit quiet.
All Gone Quiet
Since that afternoon, however, it’s all gone a bit quiet for Spurs. Despite the last gasp win against Villa, much-analysed losses to Leipzig, Chelsea and Wolves have made progress in the Champions League, and qualification for next season’s competition, pretty remote possibilities.
Then, on Wednesday, calamity in the FA Cup. A Michel Vorm error gifted Norwich and equaliser, before Spurs had a disastrous penalty shootout with only Eric Dier and Gio Lo Celso managing to beat Tim Krul. The turning point was Eric Lamela’s penalty. Vorm made the first save in the shootout, temporarily giving Spurs the momentum. Lamela followed up by blazing the ball over the bar. A few minutes later Tottenham’s last realistic chance of silverware was over.
The bizarre thing is that despite having lost the best part of 40-50 goals from their frontline, Spurs’ problem recently has mostly been defending. The goals conceded against Wolves, when Spurs tried to be a bit more expansive, were catastrophic. Leipzig, too, looked like they could pick them off at will, and almost certainly will in the next leg. While the Man City win was great, in reality, Spurs could just have easily lost that game 4-0. They conceded two goals against an Aston Villa side who will probably be relegated. With most of the frontline out, Spurs simply cannot win games if they need to score three or four goals to do so.
It all begs the question – should Mourinho start really parking the bus? And, if so, how.
Defend from the front
Yes, the goal on Wednesday came from an error by a ring-rusty goalkeeper -surely Gazzaniga should have started? – but it also came as a result of a build-up of pressure. It’s not the Norwich had many chances, they didn’t. But they had sustained periods with the ball, with no relief for the Spurs backline. If you really want to park the bus you need someone playing up front who has the ability to hold the ball up. Give people a chance to reset, maybe even start a counter-attack.
Which brings us to Troy Parrott. After all the talk, the young forward finally got a proper runout on Wednesday. Sort of. With most of his teammates out on their feet, he came on during extra time and linked play fairly nicely, but did not have a sniff at goal. He then missed his penalty in the shootout, turning his evening from an ok one into a bad one.
It is clear though that asking Dele, Lucas and Bergwijn to interchange up top is simply not sustainable, not least because they are all on the verge of breaking down with injuries. All three went off, exhausted, at various points on Wednesday evening. While they can press and pressure, they cannot hold the ball up. Consequently, it is coming back and Tottenham are being turned around too quickly.
Parrott isn’t perfect, but the circumstances aren’t perfect. I may ultimately be proved wrong, but surely he is a better target than those currently playing out of position are? Mourinho keeps saying Parrott has a lot to learn, which is true. The only way he can do so is by playing. Three minutes at the end of a game Spurs are losing, as happened against Wolves, achieves nothing but frustrating both the player and the fans.
And Mourinho can’t keep frustrating a set of fans within which there are large chunks who will be quite happy to see him fail and leave.
They’ll like us when we win
“They’ll like us when we win,” Toby Ziegler snaps as his West Wing colleagues during one episode of the much-quoted US political drama. In football, as in politics, supporters can forgive a lot if you win. It’s time then for Mourinho to compress the defence, play a proper target man to help defend from the front and park the bus properly until the real firepower returns.
They’ll like him when he wins.
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