On Sunday, Jose Mourinho was fiercely criticised after his side’s ‘negative’ performance against Liverpool in their 0-0 draw at Anfield. With many heralding it as ‘the death of football’, Mourinho’s side registered only one shot on target despite the wealth of talent that Manchester United had on show.
Four days later, Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham had earned themselves a draw of an entirely different nature. A Champions League away fixture to the Bernabeu would have intimidated any team. Pochettino set his team up positively, though, and, by the end of the evening, Tottenham found themselves sitting pretty at the top of their group with a real chance of progression in the competition.
Henry Clark looks at the approaches of both managers and argues that, when it comes to draws, Pochettino does it better than his Portuguese counterpart.
Parking the Bus
Jose Mourinho has always been accused of ‘parking the bus’ throughout his time in England. With a tendency to set his teams up deep for big games, stifling opponents and breaking up attackseldom, people have been quick to criticise the Portuguese manager for an overly negative style of play that, despite rarely resulting in defeat, is scarcely enjoyable to watch. Of course, it’s a testament to his managerial skills that he can organise his side in such a way so they are nigh-on impossible to break down. But when it comes to football, it is not simply about winning at any cost – at least when it comes to the fans themselves, many of whom devote time and money to their team.
The match on Sunday was a case in point: after extensive build-up in the media, the game itself turned out to be something of a disappointment with both team failing to score in what was a tetchy affair at Anfield. With United sitting deep, it was left to Liverpool to break them down, the undertaking of which proved difficult for a Liverpool who prefer counter-attacking football. The fact that one of the fiercest grudge matches in the world was the last match to be featured on Match of the Day, tells you everything you need to know.
At the other end of the spectrum of hard-fought draws, we find Tottenham’s midweek 1-1 result away against Real Madrid. With Dele Alli suspended and Mousa Dembele injured, you’d think Mauricio Pochettino would set his side up to be defensive, hoping to fight for a draw in a tough European fixture in one of the competition’s daunting stadiums. If Jose Mourinho had killed football, you would be forgiven for thinking that Pochettino would be putting on the wake.
In the event, though, the Argentinian used a little more guile, reverting to an unusual 5-3-2 formation which allowed him to meld together attack and defence. Pochettino’s tactics on the night were clear: suffocate space for Madrid’s star-studded forward line yet play two strikers to give the side an attacking outlet. This meant Spurs didn’t spend the whole time on the back-foot defending for 90 minutes.
The surprise selection of Fernando Llorente paid off as the Spaniard held the ball up brilliantly against two of the best centre-halves in the world in Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos. Llorente was involved in all Tottenham’s threatening play in the final third and his inclusion allowed Harry Kane to push into more advanced positions without having to worry about hold-up play. In this freer role, Kane caused problems all night for the Madrid back-line, eventually putting Varane under enough pressure that he ceded an own goal.
In many ways it was the perfect set-up by Mauricio Pochettino and a win-win for Spurs, who were tough to break-down yet still a force going forward. The solidity that the five-at-the-back provided was key: with the full backs sitting in deeper positions, it gave the three-man midfield the licence to go forward and support the strikers. In the final twenty minutes, Spurs pushed for a winner and, but for a Keylor Navas save and a wayward Christian Eriksen shot, they could have got it.
A draw it may have been, then, but it was a draw the likes of which Jose Mourinho would never dream.
A Draw isn’t just a Draw
With Spurs travelling to an intimidating fixture and coming away with a draw that could have easily crept over into all three points, this poses the question: why couldn’t Mourinho have done the same? Which is not to say that the Manchester United manager should have gone into the game with 5-3-2 formation but to recognise that there’s more than one way to play defensively.
Pochettino and Mourinho may have come away with the same results as each other. But that’s not the point. Of course, as Mourinho is desperate to tell you, football is a ‘results business’. However, in this instance, it was Mauricio Pochettino who came closest to getting a result. If Jose Mourinho plays in the same way against all of the top six away from home then he is likely to repeat the performance and come away with 0-0 draws. But in doing so, he’s also equally unlikely to win the Premier League.
So Jose Mourinho is welcome to his hard-fought draws. But I, for one, prefer the Mauricio Pochettino approach to getting them.
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