Tottenham sit top of the Premier League; the challenge to Spurs will come against less proactive sides but Jose Mourinho has found a way of getting the better of title rivals in one-off games, according to Gary Neville
Tuesday 1 December 2020 15:59, UK
Tottenham host Arsenal in the North London derby on Sunday, live on Sky Sports, and after taking four points from their last two Premier League fixtures, Gary Neville believes Jose Mourinho has found success through innovating an old tactic...
I've watched Spurs the last two games - against Manchester City and against Chelsea - and I think they've had a very good week. When Jose Mourinho was at Manchester United, something just didn't feel right. Perhaps, it was the fit and also the way Jose was.
We always used to refer to 'Mourinho masterclasses' when he won games and that he was wiser, smarter and cuter than the opposition managers. There's been an element of disrespect in the past few years whereby his style of play has been criticised to the point that it's outdated and that the game has now passed him by.
We've seen managers like Mauricio Pochettino, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp come into the league and been absolutely fantastic.
I recall a game when he was Manchester United manager against Liverpool, and I came away thinking that I couldn't watch United playing this way.
Mourinho effectively went with a back six and it was desperate to watch. I went away thinking 'United need to have more than that'.
I know Liverpool were the better team and United were in a dip, but they had to bring more than that. It didn't feel very innovative or modern. The problem with that is that United couldn't get their counter-attacks going when the two wide players were so deep. Jose played a non-dominant style of football.
He still wants the defensive stability. He still wants the clean sheet, and I don't think he wholly trusts his back four at Tottenham but you look at this Spurs team now, with Moussa Sissoko and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg screening, and you've still got a back six [as he had for United against Liverpool] but there are big differences.
Firstly, the position of Harry Kane is a lot deeper to Zlatan Ibrahimovic into a place that's difficult to pick up. Secondly, and the most important thing, is that Son [Heung-Min] and [Steven] Bergwijn are near to him.
Rather than the two nearest players to Zlatan being [Ander] Herrera and [Paul] Pogba - the two central midfielders - now Jose has the right players still in advanced positions to counter-attack quickly.
It's a subtle change but it's the same system as before in a different way. It is far more palatable and it's easier on the eye as you've still got the attacking players in attacking positions. Jose has adapted, and he's got the balance of being good defensively with the threat on the counter-attack.
I feel he has to play this way to have a chance of winning the title because I don't think his back four is strong enough without two players beefing it up. They will be a massive threat to most teams and Jose has a plan on how to win the league this season.
The challenges might come against teams that drop off against them, where they have to be a little bit more creative, but that's when the likes of Kane and Gareth Bale will come into it.
I don't think he can win it by being proactive against Liverpool, Manchester City and other teams, but if Tottenham buy into it, the players buy into it, it feels like something that's innovative. It's still defensive-minded but it's got a real threat to it, and they're scoring goals as well.