What’s gone wrong at Tottenham Hotspur? Bale, Aurier and a crisis of Mourinho’s own making

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Tottenham Hotspur's Portuguese head coach Jose Mourinho gestures on the touchline during the English Premier League football match between Brighton and Tottenham Hotspur at the American Express Community Stadium in Brighton, southern England on January 31, 2021. (Photo by ANDREW BOYERS / POOL / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No video emulation. Social media in-match use limited to 120 images. An additional 40 images may be used in extra time. No use in betting publications, games or single club/league/player publications. / (Photo by ANDREW BOYERS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Spurs have won just two of their last nine league games, dropping inexplicably from top of the table to sixth in just over a month.

“Players are men and men have feelings,” Jose Mourinho reminded us after Tottenham handed Brighton their first home win of the season on Sunday. Those feelings, at present, include “suffering from self esteem, a bad result, a bad performance”.

Spurs, who went top of the Premier League when they beat Arsenal in December, have since won just two of their nine league games since. The two victories making that run slightly more palatable came against an error-prone Leeds and basement club Sheffield United.

The very nature of a statistic like that is that it sounds cumulatively worse with every passing week.

Yet the defeat at The Amex seemed to represent a new nadir in a league campaign which looked promising six week ago, but is now riddled with mini crises.

Some of those are of Mourinho’s own making, others are cruel – if predictable – twists of fate. The club are yet to confirm the severity of Harry Kane’s latest ankle injury following his withdrawal in the 3-1 defeat to Liverpool.

Bale’s loan move under fire

In the striker’s absence, Gareth Bale formed part of a three-man attack alongside Steven Bergwijn and Son Heung-min. The Welshman, the logic of whose loan move from Real Madrid is coming under ever more scrutiny, did not attempt a single shot before being hauled off and replaced with Lucas Moura in the 61st minute.

“We lost a match and when we lose a match, we lose a match, we lose all together,” Mourinho replied, when asked for an assessment of Bale’s performance. “We don’t lose because of one player, or one bad performance. We lose together.

Soccer Football - Premier League - Brighton & Hove Albion v Tottenham Hotspur - The American Express Community Stadium, Brighton, Britain - January 31, 2021 Tottenham Hotspur manager Jose Mourinho as Gareth Bale is substituted Pool via REUTERS/Andrew Boyers EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club /league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.
Mourinho defended Bale in his press conference after another poor showing (Photo: Reuters)

Hardly a ringing endorsement, with Jamie Redknapp spotting a thinly-veiled message aimed towards Bale in Mourinho’s post-match interview with Sky Sports.

“He said at least six times in that interview ‘the last half an hour, the last half an hour’,” Redknapp said. “In the last half an hour, Gareth Bale came off.”

Graeme Souness, meanwhile, suggested that the forward will not have been too upset by being taken off – a criticism which certainly can’t be levelled at Serge Aurier.

The right-back reportedly stormed out of the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium following his substitution at half-time against Liverpool.

Spat with Aurier has wider consequences

It was Mourinho’s attempt at punishing him for an error in allowing Sadio Mane to make the run that led to Roberto Firmino’s opening goal.

Another public slap on the wrist has followed: Aurier was axed altogether from the squad that travelled to Brighton.

Sanctioning the Ivorian is a tight-rope exercise. He has just 18 months left to run on his contract and a number of errors – notably against Liverpool and in the 2-0 defeat to Leicester at home – have left Mourinho wondering whether it would be best to cut him loose now.

But Aurier is a popular member of the dressing room and, at first glance, his teammates did not seem particularly invigorated or impressed by his exile.

Spurs shifted to a back three, with Moussa Sissoko playing as a right wing-back. On Thursday, Mourinho will be pitted against a similar system in Thomas Tuchel’s new-look Chelsea, a tweak which has immediately made the Blues more fluid – at least in the 2-0 win over Burnley.

The north Londoners look comparatively stagnant, which was not even remedied by the chance to refresh the squad on deadline day. Only a couple of fringe players departed, with Troy Parrott joining Ipswich on loan and Gedson Fernandes heading for Galatasaray.

Danny Rose’s move to Trabzonspor fell through and understands he has now rejected a number of other options. The left-back is not part of Tottenham’s 25-man Premier League squad, which means he is set to see out the rest of the season as part of the U23 set-up.

Dele Alli’s loan move to Paris Saint-Germain also failed to materialise with Daniel Levy blocking an agreement.

On current evidence, and notwithstanding a minor recent injury, there is no reason for Alli not to be included in matchday squads – but even those who are part of the regular set-up do not look a particularly happy camp.

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