Longreads

Sad but true: Mourinho’s new-look Tottenham team works better without Dele Alli in it

Tottenham appear reborn at the moment, particular on the attacking side of the game; Jose Mourinho’s outfit have scored 16 goals in their past three matches and several new signings have been added to a squad that previously seemed stale and worn, as reported by football.london.

Those new faces, combined with developments behind the scenes, have drastically impacted Spurs, with Mourinho moving away from the system that he integrated upon his appointment last November.

4-2-3-1 was the crux of his original idea, with Serge Aurier advancing from defence to attack whenever possession was secured while Ben Davies tucked inside to form a situational back three.

Dele Alli was reinstated as the team’s no.10 after his role became relatively ambiguous towards the end of Mauricio Pochettino’s tenure, and Harry Kane was deployed as a somewhat traditional central striker.

“If you want to know what I wanted to do, look to my first game,” said the Portuguese in January. “That’s the way I thought I was going to develop the team. Defend with a back four, attack with a back three.”

However, an amalgamation of fresh ingredients have mixed to form Mourinho’s newest cocktail.

Dele has fallen out of favour with the 57 year-old to such an extent that he’s largely been dropped from the squad, and Gareth Bale and Sergio Reguilon have joined from Real Madrid.

Bale is a left-footed forward who naturally poses a threat in behind and scores goals by cutting inside, having averaged as many shots per 90 over the past few campaigns as the large majority of popular strikers. Reguilon, meanwhile, is a mobile and attack-minded left-back who is different to what the Spurs boss had at his disposal beforehand in Davies.

As a consequence of Dele’s removal, the need for a no.10 has diminished; Mourinho is free to devise a new approach according to the qualities of his most important players with Bale, Reguilon and Kane set to be integral, and he’s decided on 4-3-3.

Without Dele occupying the space between Spurs’ midfield and attack, Kane is now able to drift and wander into deeper areas to link with others and showcase his passing range rather than being restricted to the penalty box.

Such roaming is unlikely to cause structural problems because – theoretically – Son Heung-min and Bale should drift towards the middle and stretch defences by actively darting in behind.

From the perspective of an opposing centre-back, do you follow Kane into midfield and allow a channel to open up for Son or Bale to run into, or do you allow Kane to stray despite knowing that he’s dangerous when presented with time and space?

That double-edged sword is going to be difficult for opponents to handle, and Reguilon looks set to pose the same offensive threat from the left that Aurier poses from the right while the central midfield trident – including another summer purchase in Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg – focus on primarily remaining behind the ball.

Tanguy Ndombele – who is another fairly recent arrival – is also benefiting from the new shape; he had previously failed to convince Mourinho that he was contributing enough as part of a midfield two but as part of a trio, the Frenchman is afforded greater protection and assistance from those around him.

Bale is yet to truly play a part as he continues to return to full fitness – with Steven Bergwijn deployed against West Ham – but it’s reasonable to suggest that he’ll be a regular starter before too long.

Overall, Spurs’ structure is more harmonious with Dele out of the picture; Kane can act as a more prominent figure, Son and Bale can both play high and on the inside, and Reguilon, Hojbjerg and Ndombele can dedicate their energy to what they do best as individuals.

Mourinho has found balance, and with only five Premier League matches played this season and each rival club encountering major problems of their own, the three-time champion might silently believe that he’s got an outside chance of reclaiming his crown.