Is Jose Mourinho's criticism of Tanguy Ndombele justified?
Background image: Bluejam, CC BY-SA 2.0.
Tanguy Ndombele turned heads with his performances for Lyon last season. The 23-year-old was a mainstay in the club’s midfield, putting forth strong outings in both Ligue 1 and the Champions League. Naturally, that led to links in regards to a big-money move to a European giant. At a point, both Manchester City and United were rumoured to be interested in a deal, with the former seeking a replacement for the ageing Fernandinho. As it turned out, Tottenham Hotspur won the race for his signature and splashed £54million in the process. Now the club’s record signing, the Frenchman was expected to take the Premier League by storm.
Mauricio Pochettino was bolstering his side after a surprise run to the Champions League final - despite failing to sign new players in the earlier two transfer windows. Perhaps with the strengthening, he could go one better this time around. Unfortunately, things didn’t work out that way, as the Argentine lost his job after results became increasingly poor. Jose Mourinho returned to management after almost a year out as his replacement.
Questions from several quarters about the Portuguese gaffer’s suitability for the job given his antecedent as a conservative manager. But although Tottenham’s free-flowing style of play under Pochettino was easy on the eye, it produced no silverware in five years. Mourinho was expected to bring home silverware. Having won so many trophies in his career so far, it’s understandable the club’s hierarchy believed that will be the case. But four months in, the team is faring no better.
The performance of several players has severely dwindled and the side is almost unrecognisable to the one that reached the Champions League final last summer. Spurs were knocked out of the FA Cup by Norwich City recently, ending hopes of securing silverware this season, unless the Lilywhites can pull off a Champions League miracle. In the Premier League game against Burnley on Saturday, the team battled back to secure a 1-1 draw at Turf Moor. Losing 1-0 at half-time, the former Chelsea boss yanked-off both Ndombele and 19-year-old Oliver Skipp who partnered in midfield.
Mourinho later slated the Frenchman for failing to establish any presence in midfield, which gave Burnley the freedom to drive through unhindered. It’s a path the 57-year-old gaffer has travelled before at all of Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester United. Each time, it led straight to the exit door. It’s true the French midfielder hasn't pulled his weight under his new manager, but that's a criticism that can be levelled at most of the squad...
In fact, with a goal contribution of 1 in every 236 minutes in the Premier League, he compares favourably to all of Mourinho's deep-lying midfielders in attack, including Lo Celso. But Ndombele has done poorly in the defensive phase of the game. That’s despite being a defensive midfielder by trade. It’s clear the manager’s tactics haven't exploited his strengths.
Mourinho can bemoan the lack of strikers all he wants due to the injuries to Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, but one thing he can’t run away from is that his team is conceding too many goals. A manager who is famed for building defensively solid teams has failed to fix the problems in Tottenham’s defence, despite having a transfer window to make additions to his squad.
Four losses and a draw in the last five games with no clean sheet has left Tottenham sinking without a trace. That cannot be blamed on Ndombele, who has spent some considerable time on the sidelines due to injuries and was making just his third Premier League start for the club since Mourinho took charge. Yes, he's not exempt from blame but he's certainly not the sole reason for Spurs' struggles...