As Spurs were unceremoniously sent crashing out of this season’s UEFA Champions League, there were comments circulating on social media suggesting that Jose Mourinho is “finished”.
It’s a sentiment that is perhaps a little too strong at this point, but there’s little doubt that the two-time European champion faces a difficult task in proving that he is still worthy of being considered among the world’s best.
To begin with some defence of Mourinho, it’s only right to remember that he took over a side which had been struggling domestically for much of 2019 and with the team languishing in the bottom half of the table – 11 points adrift of the top four and 12 points behind third-placed Chelsea.
Within a month, Spurs were up to 5th ahead of a match against Chelsea – whose lead had been cut to just 3 points ahead – and Spurs were very much back into contention for achieving a top four finish and a fifth successive season of Champions League football.
But whilst an argument supporting Mourinho could be made on the basis of the much improved league form, so too could it be argued that Spurs haven’t made the most of a golden opportunity to be even higher in the table.
Over the first three months from the date of Mourinho’s appointment at Spurs, Chelsea dropped 27 points from a possible 42. As the gap between Chelsea and the teams below reduced, not one of the group of teams including Man United, Spurs, Wolves and Arsenal took advantage of what has been the equivalent of an open goal of an opportunity.
Had Spurs collected points at a similar rate to that which they averaged over the past three seasons, it would have been good enough for a top five position with a quarter of the season to play, placing much greater pressure on Frank Lampard’s young Chelsea team.
Instead, Spurs are 8th, and the gap to 4th place has stretched to 7 points, with Man United and Wolves both showing improved form and looking more likely to claim a league position which would earn European football next season.
Following last week’s FA Cup exit at home to Norwich, defeat to RB Leipzig last night ended the possibility of silverware for another season, and in offering an explanation for the defeat, Mourinho referred to the amount of injuries to key players.
The loss of Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min have clearly weakened Spurs’ attack, and led to questions over the lack of investment in players who could offer backup to the forward positions. But Spurs have experienced big problems at the other end of the pitch, keeping just 3 clean sheets in 17 league games and not a single clean sheet in any of the nine cup matches since mid-November.
This is an area where a manager such as Mourinho would have been expected to deliver some signs of improvement, though there’s little evidence of any progress being made in forming a team which is difficult to beat.
Given the speed in which a highly talented title-winning Chelsea team slid down the table during Mourinho’s ill-fated final months during his second spell at the club, or how an expensively-assembled Man United team fell so far behind Liverpool and Man City by mid-December, despite finishing runners-up in the league only months earlier, there’s a trend developing that shows a manager who appears neither able to find the answers needed to recover from difficult positions, nor capable of getting the most out of the players at his disposal.
And while Spurs’ victory over Man City could be used as evidence that he’s still capable of delivering a result in the biggest of games, the results in fixtures against opponents that are closer to Spurs in the table are less impressive with only 4 points taken from six matches against the teams currently positioned between 4th and 10th.
There’s still enough time for Spurs to improve their position sufficiently to secure European football, but next season will be the true test of Mourinho’s ability to build a team which can deliver significantly improved results and compete for silverware.
Should he fail, the idea that he is “finished” would certainly have more credibility, and a man considered to be one of the greatest managers in football history may experience more difficulty in finding a managerial job at a club with ambitions of competing for the very trophies that used to be added to his CV on an almost annual basis.