Jose Mourinho knows why Tottenham keep losing leads, but Spurs’ manager may never explain root cause

Jose Mourinho says he knows what is behind Tottenham’s proclivity for throwing away advantageous positions, but he may never explain to the public why his team struggle to retain leads.

Spurs have dropped 18 points from winning positions this season, a tally ‘bettered’ only by Brighton and Hove Albion on 20, and across three of their last four Premier League matches have turned leads into a combined one point, drawing against Newcastle United whilst losing to Arsenal and Manchester United. The same is no less true in other competitions with Dinamo Zagreb having overturned a 2-0 first leg deficit to knock Tottenham out of the Europa League at the round of 16 stage.

Needless to say if Mourinho’s side had turned even some of those winning positions into three points they would be in a better position than they currently occupy in the Premier League, seventh place and six points off the top four ahead of a trip to Everton where defeat would deal a major blow to their chances of Champions League qualification. Still the Spurs manager is determined to look on the bright side of his team’s tendency to start fast and taper away.

“I know why it happened and I know also that you can look at it in a different perspective,” Mourinho said in his pre-match press conference. “A team that starts matches well and starts winning matches means something positive, means something positive that you like to forget — the positive aspect of that. 

“But I agree with you in the sense that if you’re in winning positions and you lose points from winning positions, there are also negative things side by side to it.” One of those is the numerous lost points that which would have propelled Spurs up the league, something to which the Spurs manager added: “I think it has to do with some of our qualities as a team but I’m not ready to discuss with you.”

Asked when he would be ready, he said: “Maybe never.”

A more detailed explanation has presumably been given to his players. Indeed Mourinho has on occasion during his recent struggles indicated that it is not his methods that are to blame for Spurs’ inability to hold leads but his squad, memorably saying after the Newcastle draw that the root cause of the issue came down to “same coach, different players”. 

Inarguably there have been no signs of improvement in how Tottenham cope with advantageous situations. Passivity when in the lead has been a defining trait of their season. In 11 minutes when a goal up on Arsenal last month they took no shots, one in 17 minutes against Manchester United and five in 51 against Newcastle, a match where the relegation-battling Magpies registered by far their highest expected goals tally (a metric that assesses the likelihood any shot will end up in a goal) in a Premier League match since their promotion in 2017.

Mourinho’s issue in attempting to quiet the issue may be that he has previous experience here. Fans, players and eventually the hierarchy at Real Madrid and Manchester United have expressed disquiet and eventually much more over the passive approach of his teams in game. At Tottenham the 58-year-old has insisted that he never instructs his team to hold on to slender leads but there is yet to be a convincing explanation for what instead compels them to play in that fashion.

Whether they will be inclined to replicate it should they take an early lead on Goodison Park on Friday night remains to be seen. It is certainly the sort of game where players might naturally look to desperately hang on to any advantage, such are the stakes in a match between seventh and eighth with European qualification up for grabs.

Mourinho, however, insists that defeat for him or Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti would not spell the end of their bid for a top-four berth. “We’re very close to each other but there are more clubs around,” he said. “There are some clubs with a few more points, some others with a few less but with still more than 20 points on the table, I think it’s still open. 

“Of course it’s the kind of match where winner gets the points and stops the loser from getting them. If you draw you stay more or less in the same position. So understandably I don’t think anything will be decided in there. But if one of the two teams wins and gets an advantage, that can be important in the direct duel. Not in the relation to all the others that are around. If one team wins, of course, gets an important advantage to the other.”

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