How Tottenham's season has imploded as criticism of Mourinho grows

Players sick of Mourinho’s outdated tactics, morale on the floor, Bale and the new boys have disappointed, there’s problems all over the pitch and silverware is slipping away… How Tottenham’s season has imploded

  • Tottenham’s season reached a fresh low point with defeat to Dinamo Zagreb
  • Jose Mourinho’s game plan was all wrong as they threw away 2-0 first leg lead
  • Shock Europa League exit left fans calling for Mourinho to be sacked right away
  • But chairman Daniel Levy would have to stump up millions to end his contract
  • Discontent is growing at Mourinho’s over-cautious approach to all fixtures 
  • Morale has slumped as their season has imploded from title tilt to failure 

Post-match player interviews are usually dull affairs, a string of boring platitudes from someone who’s barely had chance to catch their breath.

Which makes the brutal comments of Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris after their shock Europa League exit to Dinamo Zagreb on Thursday night all the more striking.

Spurs threw away a two-goal first leg advantage to lose 3-0 after extra time in Croatia, the result raising eyebrows across Europe and representing a fresh nadir in Jose Mourinho’s time in charge.

It was a night of misery for Tottenham as Dinamo Zagreb dumped them out the Europa League

Jose Mourinho’s side took a two-goal advantage to Croatia but lost 3-0 after extra time

Lloris didn’t hold back his true feelings. ‘I think we are all more than disappointed, it is just a disgrace,’ said the club captain.

‘I just hope everyone in the changing room feels responsible for the situation because it’s a disgrace.

‘The taste of the defeat tonight is more than painful and we are all responsible for that.

‘The accumulation, obviously we are a club full of ambition, I just think the team at the moment is a reflection of what is going on in the club.’

A furious Hugo Lloris slammed Tottenham’s exit from the Europa League as a ‘disgrace’

Lloris clearly wasn’t willing to toe the party line, alluding to off-field issues that run deep at Tottenham that have contributed to season imploding.

Let’s not forget that Spurs topped the Premier League three months ago. Now they sit eighth, with six points to make up to the Champions League places.

Their Europa League exit has not only damaged hopes of some long-awaited silverware but also blocked off a potential route into Europe’s top competition next season.

Spurs still have the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City on April 25 but will start as second favourites.

And in the wake of this latest setback, Sportsmail revealed that Mourinho will be sacked if Spurs fail to finish in the top four at the end of the season and return the club to the Champions League.  

So what has been going wrong as Tottenham’s season unravels?

Mourinho’s risk-averse approach is a turn off

We’ve all been acquainted with Mourinho long enough now to know his Spurs team was never going to play free-flowing, attacking football in every game.

But their cautious, conservative set-up, apparently regardless of the strength of the opposition, has really started to hold them back.

Some players have expressed discontent with Mourinho’s tactics, which tend to prioritise not conceding and keeping things tight in defence over any kind of expressive football.

Instead of instilling a sense of freedom in his team’s football, Mourinho just urges them not to take risks.

Mislav Orsic of Dinamo Zagreb celebrates his hat-trick goal in extra time on Thursday night

Tottenham’s dejected players didn’t know whether to push forward and kill the tie off or defend their two-goal advantage from the first leg

After the run of games in February which saw Tottenham exit the FA Cup to Everton and lose in the Premier League to Manchester City and West Ham, there did seem to be a kind of reset.

Spurs did play more openly in the subsequent wins over Wolfsberger, Burnley and Crystal Palace. But anyone who thought Mourinho was a reformed character has been left disappointed.

Taking a two-goal lead to Croatia seemed to scramble minds. Mourinho could have urged his team to push forward from the start and try and snatch another goal to secure the tie.

Instead, they sat back and tried to preserve what is always a flimsy advantage. It was odd because Mourinho had spoken beforehand about how he wanted his team to push for the win, even if it left them exposed.

Patience seems to be wearing thin when it comes to Mourinho’s risk-averse approach

Tottenham’s season:

Premier League

8th place – six points off the Champions League places with 10 matches remaining 

FA Cup

Lost 5-4 to Everton in fifth round

Carabao Cup

Final vs Manchester City on April 25

UEFA Europa League

Lost 3-2 on aggregate to Dinamo Zagreb in the last-16 

But his remark afterwards that the players had studied video clips of Mislav Orsic, who scored a hat-trick, all week was more instructive.

While all teams prepare for games by studying the opposition, there is a feeling that Mourinho places too much emphasis on opposition threats rather than how a talented Spurs side can actually win the game.

The other long-standing criticism is that Mourinho doesn’t possess a Plan B to his cautious default setting when Spurs concede a goal.

In the loss at West Ham, confidence drained away after an early goal because the whole game plan is designed around not conceding. It leads to a caution that has become ingrained now and is hard to snap out of when they do concede first.

Mindset is all wrong

One thing you could be assured off during Mourinho’s heyday at Chelsea is that the team went out onto the field expecting to win every game.

He was a master at ensuring everyone was of the same mindset, all pulling together in the same direction.

But at Spurs, morale appears to be on the floor right now. In their last two games, the north London derby loss to Arsenal and Thursday night’s humiliation, they looked like a side awaiting the inevitable defeat.

Mourinho came out after the loss in Zagreb and contrasted his players with the victorious opposition.

Tottenham led in Sunday’s north London derby but ended up losing to Arsenal 2-1

‘There was one team that decided to leave everything on the pitch,’ he said. ‘They left sweat, energy, blood. In the end they left even tears of happiness. Very humble and committed. I have to praise them.

‘On the other side, my team. They didn’t look like they were playing an important match. If for any one of them it is not important, for me it is.’

Very poetic but it conveniently overlooks the fact that Mourinho is the man responsible for making sure Spurs treat every match as an ‘important’ one.

With spirits low, you also have to wonder whether another public barb like this is helpful.

Mourinho used to absorb a lot of the criticism that surrounded his teams, taking the blows himself and deflecting them. In recent times, he just seems to take aim at his own team or single someone out, creating a toxic atmosphere.

It’s been a bad week for Mourinho (right) as losses to Arsenal and Dinamo ruined a mini-revival

He came out swinging after that West Ham defeat, claiming defiantly that his methods remain ‘second to nobody in the world.’

Yet the manner of Spurs’ last two performances – and the fact many fans are now calling for Mourinho’s sacking – pours scorn on this arrogant suggestion.  

Sportsmail understands Spurs would look to put Mourinho on gardening leave if they decide to pull the trigger, meaning they could continue to pay him monthly rather than fork out one lump sum.

Tottenham employed this tactic with previous Mauricio Pochettino, who they stopped paying when he was appointed new Paris Saint Germain boss in December.

A defence in retreat

Surprisingly for a Mourinho side – and one that prioritises caution in games – the defence looks so vulnerable.

At the Emirates on Sunday, Matt Doherty was given a torrid time by Kieran Tierney and the defenders left Martin Odegaard wasn’t picked up for Arsenal’s equaliser.

On Thursday, Serge Aurier stood off Orsic for his first goal as though daring him to shoot and ended up on his backside as he cut inside him and found the top corner.

Matt Doherty struggled to contain Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney during the north London derby

Serge Aurier stood off Mislav Orsic for his first goal during Thursday night’s humiliation 

These are just the latest defensive errors of many during the capitulation of the past three months.

The 5-4 FA Cup loss at Everton was littered with defensive mistakes and the home losses to Liverpool and Chelsea saw costly lapses of judgement at the back.

Eric Dier started the season brilliantly at centre-back but his form has declined and Mourinho said recently he was suffering a ‘crisis of confidence’.

Eric Dier began the season in excellent form but has struggled as the team has slipped back

Toby Alderweireld, the most experienced defender, has been in and out of the team all season and Aurier likewise.

With not much happening going forward against Dinamo, the defence just retreated further and further back, inviting pressure, and eventually cracked.

And if they really had been watching videos of Orsic all week, then the message clearly wasn’t received and understood.

Dearth of creativity

A lack of chances and creativity can be forgiven against the likes of Manchester City or Liverpool, but for large chunks of Thursday night’s game, Spurs seemingly had little idea how to break Dinamo down.

Harry Kane, as usual, carried the bulk of their threat and had the clearest chances but he wasn’t exactly blessed with service.

The lack of intensity spoke of an uncertainty over whether to try and kill the tie off or defend what they had plus the instinctive caution Mourinho has drummed into the players in games like this.

The absence of Son Heung-min with a hamstring injury showed how reliant Spurs are on the Kane-Son partnership that has so often delivered this season.

Harry Kane cuts a dejected figure after Thursday’s loss in which he received little service

Kane’s partnership with Son Heung-min – currently out injured – has been highly productive

Despite fielding the likes of Lucas Moura, Erik Lamela and Dele Alli behind Kane, nobody seemed willing to step up.

Lamela was taken off for Gareth Bale on the hour mark and the other two were replaced as well before the end of normal time, suggesting Mourinho wasn’t happy with their lack of spark.

Bale has been in good form of late and he did help raise their tempo but was unable this time to inspire a goal that would have seen them through.

The team has been reliant on the understanding between Kane and Son all season – and of late, Kane and Bale – but it never feels like a collective effort in attack.

One saving grace is that Son’s injury isn’t as bad as first feared but the number of competitions in which the South Korean can influence this season is dwindling.

Mourinho introduced Gareth Bale in the second-half but he was unable to inspire a fightback

New signings have taken time to adapt

After a patchy first few months of his return on loan from Real Madrid, Bale has looked fit and sharp in recent weeks, scoring twice against both Burnley and Crystal Palace.

Mourinho started him on the bench on Thursday night, which made sense given the tie should have been more or less wrapped up.

Spurs did carry more of a threat when he came on, inviting the inevitable question as to whether they could have snatched that all-important away goal had he started and then taken him off in the second-half.

Right-back Matt Doherty, another of Mourinho’s signings back in the summer, has finally been given a run of matches in the league after suggestions the manager was sceptical of his abilities.

He didn’t perform well against Arsenal, however, and didn’t feature against Dinamo, so the jury remains out.

Vinicius, chucked on for Lucas Moura with five minutes of the game left, really has struggled to get much of a look-in this season.

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