Stag’s Take – Gameweek 13
On Wednesday evening, I was chatting to a friend who had been through a busy couple of days and who hadn’t had a chance to follow any news. His reaction to being told that Mauricio Pochettino had been sacked by Spurs, and José Mourinho installed as his replacement, was unrestrained shock.
Seeing someone else go through all the stages of grief over the course of a few seconds, culminating with acceptance and the question “what does that mean for Kane in FPL?” made me wonder, just like every other manager, just how big of an impact this appointment could have on the FPL season.
The Premier League's Prince of Darkness, the protagonist and antagonist in chief, has returned.
What even is a “José Team”?
Spurs currently sit 14th in the PL table, without a win in five, and having scored just four times in that run. Their defence, once so dependable under former centre-back Pochettino, is no longer recognisable in spite of the fact (and perhaps because of the fact) that the faces remain largely the same. Harry Kane is a shell of the dynamic, aggressive runner and high-quantity, high-quality shooter he once was, although his goal-scoring tallies remain outstanding - just not what they were.
The financial house of cards that the club has maintained for years, offloading big names at the right time and somehow continuing to have key players on low-pay long-term contracts looks under threat too. Christian Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Danny Rose are all “contract rebels” running down their contracts to the end of the season, when they will be able to leave North London for free. Mourinho has historically fallen out with players doing this, but he will surely try to throw these players a rope and bring them back aboard as their actions up to now have had nothing to do with him.
Those contract rebels also represent something else: They are all players Mourinho has reportedly wished to sign in the past. The central defenders in particular meet a basic Mourequirement: they are tall. All four players also have another characteristic of a standard “José player”: Experience. I expect all of these players to come in from the cold.
In fact, “experienced” is a word which can be attributed to the bulk of the squad Mourinho has inherited, even if the experience is only at the club at this stage because Spurs failed to find a buyer for them. Miguel Delaney of the Independent highlighted this week that Poch required youth, hunger and energy to pull off his labour-intense tactical plan; José Mourinho’s usually favours old experienced heads with guile in abundance. Delaney suggests that this squad has matured just in time for Mourinho, and it's an argument I find quite convincing.
Regardless, given the emphasis Mourinho has placed on “keeping [the] base” of the tactics Poch instituted in his interviews this week, a revolution should not be expected in Gameweek 13. We will see a change over time; Mourinho has been keen to impress on the media that this is the first time that he has taken over a club mid-season since he took over Porto... when both this writer and Dele Alli were five years old. He has spoken about the need for a different approach and adjustments, rather than the upheaval which has tended to follow his summer-time appointments over the last 15 years.
In the early Mourinho years, his 4-3-3 system took Europe by storm, but that has been left behind mostly in favour of a 4-2-3-1 over the last decade. A hybrid of Poch's 4-4-2 diamond with a press and Mou's more restrained 4-2-3-1 can be expected in the near future.
He is my take on what the Special One’s 4-2-3-1 could look like if overlaid on the current Tottenham group:
A solid back four has been a hallmark of Mourinho’s teams in England and beyond since he came to prominence. We often see that a good defensive coach can make an impact very quickly, so in the short term, there is (seemingly) predictable FPL points to come from Spurs defenders. Mourinho sides have ranked in the top two defensively, in terms of clean sheets, goals conceded, and big chances conceded, in all of his full seasons in English football. His Porto side could hold off Europe's giants, his Inter side conquered Europe with a solid foundation, and his Madrid side were able to overthrow Pep’s Barcelona because of their consistent stability at the back (albeit they did concede a handful more than Barca in La Liga that season).
I expect that Toby Alderweireld will take a berth at centre-back. I am not so certain that Jan Vertonghen will accompany him, though as Davinson Sánchez strikes me as a player that would suit Mourinho’s style. I don’t envisage a world where the error-prone Serge Aurier starts at right-back, perhaps opening the door to Juan Foyth. Danny Rose, perennially linked to Mou’s United, should start on the left.
Michel Vorm is injured, so Paulo Gazzaniga should retain his place between the nets in GW13, but it remains to be seen if he holds that position as time passes. If you wanted Spurs defence cover this weekend however, it would be Gazza that I would opt for as he delivers great value.
Two players usually sit in front of Mourinho’s defence, screening the middle of the pitch. If there is anything to be gleaned from transfer rumours in seasons gone by, Eric Dier will be a vital part of the midfield. To me, Tanguy Ndombele is the obvious partner for the Englishman, but maybe Mourinho would fancy dropping Christian Eriksen back into the role which Frank Lampard played in the early years of Mou’s first stint at Chelsea and which Xabi Alonso refined at Real Madrid. Cesc Fabregas, who is stylistically quite similar to Eriksen, did this frequently in 2014/15 also. Where Eriksen plays – and he should play somewhere – is potentially the biggest question mark in my brain about this team… but this position appears to be a straightforward way to get him on the pitch and harness his creativity, without demanding too much of him physically. I think Harry Winks has cause to assess prospective moves away from the club in January. Moussa Sissoko would pair quite well with Ndombele and could paper over Dier's lack of pace if played alongside him, but I think Mourinho is more likely to try other options before handing the Frenchman an opportunity to impress.
Hard-working wingers with substantial defensive responsibilities have been a trope in the psychodrama of Mourinho’s recent seasons. Anthony Martial’s work rate was at the base of a frosty relationship at Old Trafford, Eden Hazard struggled to fulfil his duties in the second season of the second coming at Chelsea; both experiences stood in stark contrast to Samuel Eto’o at Inter, where the Cameroonian gave up being Inter’s main goalscorer and fulfilled his manager's wishes for the greater good . I fear Heung-Min Son may be a victim of this from an FPL standpoint; he has the pace and stamina to fulfil the role and he can still make a valuable contribution going forward, but he will not be the FPL dream OOP forward that we have come to enjoy. Alternatively, Mou could set him out as a striker with Harry Kane as a Number 10, which is hard to envisage. Cristiano Ronaldo is one winger Mourinho indulged and excused from defensive duties, but the talismanic forward was at his peak at that point and Marcelo covered for him brilliantly, providing width in possession and still making a contribution defensively. Eden Hazard, briefly, was granted a similar status in Chelsea's PL winning season. Unless Spurs give Ryan Sessegnon a chance at left-back, they don't have a player physically capable of allowing Son to fulfil a Ronaldo-role, even if he wears "7" on his back. At first viewing, it seems he is on course for FPL regression.
Lucas Moura is the most likely candidate to play on the right flank.
If Moura can’t meet Mourinho’s standards, perhaps Son will be put on the right, with Ryan Sessegnon combining the defensive role he fulfilled brilliantly in the Championship with Fulham and the midfield role he reprised in the Premier League later. I don't see Erik Lamela meeting Mourinho's standards enough, or staying fit long enough, to be an option on either side.
The middle of the three attacking midfielders should be a productive asset from an FPL point of view. If Mourinho can get a conductor playing well in this position, his attack will flow and his customary trophies will follow. Cesc Fabregas and Oscar did it in the title-winning season in the Chelsea return, Ozil did it at Real, Sneijder at Inter Milan, Deco at Porto. Frank Lampard under Mourinho is also synonymous with this role.
“I like a No.10 to score goals. I like a No.10 to get in the box... A No.10 for me is a No.8-and-a-half when the team loses the ball and a No. 9-and-a-half when the team has the ball.” To Chelsea’s club site, 2015.
Dele Alli is a much better fit for these demands than Christian Eriksen, in my mind. Spurs reached their peak under Poch circa 2017. At that time, they were by far the best team in England over the course of about 18 months, a period in which Leicester beat them to the league in 2016 and then they failed to carry their form long enough to prevent Conte’s Chelsea taking the honours in 2016/17. Dele Alli was a vital part of Spurs’ success in both seasons, breaking into the team and recording double figures for goals and assists in consecutive campaigns. Where did that player go since then?
Signs of decline, a clear lack of energy in on-pitch performances and reports of unrest within the dressing room seem to have gnawed away at Poch's side over the period, culminating in his departure this week. Whilst all that occurred at a team-level, Alli faced injuries, fatigue and media intrusion into his personal life like never before. He has come out the other side of them now, with occasional flashes of brilliance reminding us of what he can do in the past twelve months. I think a bit of confidence and new ideas will do him wonders; he could make a mockery of his current 8.4 price tag in FPL. A good performance against West Ham and I’ll be seriously considering bringing him into my side.
Up top, Harry Kane is safe. Aside from Ireland’s great hope Troy Parrott, Spurs have no recognised strikers available to them. Regardless, Mourinho is a fan of the marquee striker and Kane would be installed regardless of other options. A quick look at Mou's history shows it: Lukaku was supposed to lead from the front at United, Costa at Chelsea, Benzema at Real, Milito at Inter, Drogba at Chelsea. Kane has looked lethargic for years now in comparison to the player who provided the goals during Spurs' best period under Poch in 2016 and 2017. The Argentine manager was famous for forcing his players through intense daily double training sessions, and perhaps Kane will benefit from escaping that regime over time, but such a physical benefit of Mourinho's management should not manifest quickly. For now, it will be business as usual, with scoring goals by any means necessary Kane’s sole objective. If Mourinho’s project at Spurs is to succeed, Kane will be the key.
Harry Kane (West Ham A)
Sergio Agüero (Chelsea H)
Richarlison (Norwich H)
Stag has been providing #FPL Tips since July 2015 and has been a contributor for Rotoworld.com since August 2016. He is a self-proclaimed wannabe fantasy football genius, a student, and die-hard tea enthusiast.