In his latest Sky Sports column, Paul Merson looks at the problems surrounding Gareth Bale’s return to Tottenham ahead of facing West Brom on Sunday.
Having been top of the Premier League in mid-December, Spurs have rapidly fallen away. Since travelling to Anfield at the summit on December 16, they’ve lost five of their next nine games, including three in a row for the first time since 2012.
Following Thursday evening’s 1-0 defeat at home to Chelsea, they are now eighth, seven points behind fourth-placed Liverpool and 14 points behind leaders Manchester City with the pressure cranking up on Mourinho.
In his latest Sky Sports column, the Magic Man reads between the lines of why the Spurs boss decided against bringing on the club’s former star – and just how far the player’s stock has fallen in recent times.
‘Bale looks a shadow of his former self’
The Gareth Bale situation will continue to play out as it did on Thursday evening.
Why have him as a sub if he’s not coming on when you are 1-0 down? With Bale as a sub, there’s only ever one reason he’s coming on and that’s if they are losing the game and they need something to happen to get back into it. He knows he’s not coming on if they are 1-0 up and he knows he’s not coming on if it’s 0-0 and a tight game because that suits Mourinho.
So, when they are 1-0 down and he doesn’t come on, what’s the point in having him as a sub? If he’s not coming on when you are 1-0 down at home to Chelsea, he’s never coming on in any game.
Of what I’ve seen so far from him when he’s got on the pitch, and I haven’t seen the training, but if I’m the manager and he knocks on my door, I don’t know when I’d stop laughing. Honestly, I’d think he’s knocking on my door to ask where the best place is to park because he can’t be knocking on the door to say he should be playing. He hasn’t done anything to suggest that.
“I am trying my best. Gareth is trying his best. Everyone is trying their best.”
‘Zidane’s the one laughing now’
Why should he be playing? Because he’s Gareth Bale?
When he came back to Spurs, we all questioned what Zinedine Zidane was playing at, but he’s the one laughing at Real Madrid now. You think back, it wasn’t long ago now when Wales qualified for the Euros and he’s holding up a banner. ‘Wales, Golf, Real Madrid.’ What does that tell you?
Everybody has reasons and that’s why you have to be careful with managers. They see players day in, day out and they see everything that’s going on. We only see the bit at the end, and we make our minds up on players and whether they should be playing or not.
The managers see everything, and Zidane would have seen it all with Bale. I don’t know what his attitude is like but when I’ve watched him play so far, bar the Wycombe game in the FA Cup – and no disrespect to Wycombe, if you are not standing out against them then you don’t deserve to be on £500,000-a-year – it’s just not there.
He was a great player. I don’t like using great loosely, but he was top drawer. He was a real good player, but he looks an absolute shadow of that now.
‘Spurs play the worst football in the Premier League’
Some Tottenham fans will see this, while some might think I’m being harsh, but Tottenham are the worst team in the Premier League to watch, at the moment.
Sheffield United are bottom of the league and have only won two matches, but they went to Manchester the other week and didn’t do what Tottenham did at home, and Sheffield United have got nowhere near the talent Spurs have got.
Fulham haven’t got the talent but at least they tried to have a go at Leicester.
Thursday evening’s game, the first half, for a Tottenham fan was embarrassing. It was embarrassing at the highest level. I sat and watched, and I could not believe what I was watching. It is mind-blowing what Jose Mourinho must be saying to those players.
Poor Carlos Vinicius up front. He’s playing up front on his own 20 yards away from every other player.
They are playing against Chelsea and although Thomas Tuchel has turned things around, it’s not a free-flowing football team. It’s not a team that’s going to score six or seven goals against you. Timo Werner is a good player, who hasn’t got going yet.
Spurs are playing against a centre-forward in Werner who has got one goal against Morecambe in his last 18 games in all competitions and they are still sitting 10-men behind the ball.
You’d have thought Spurs were playing against Brazil or playing in the second leg of a European tie against the top Barcelona side of old. You’ve won the first leg 1-0 away from home and you’ve just got to come back and make sure you get a 0-0.
Does Mourinho rate his players?
Does Mourinho think his players are good enough?
I could understand it if they were playing against Manchester City because they can rip you to shreds. It’s proven.
But not against this Chelsea team – and this is no disrespect to Chelsea – because they are not exactly free-flowing. I watched them have 800 passes against Wolves and they didn’t really look like scoring. And again, last night, for all their dominance, they didn’t really create clear-cut chance after clear-cut chance.
They were lucky there wasn’t 65,000 people in that crowd. If there was, there would have been uproar. Booed off? They would have got slaughtered.
And the second half was better because they actually chased after Chelsea for about 15 minutes, but after that they didn’t.
‘Injury problems are not an excuse’
Liverpool have got massive players missing but they still have a go. They don’t park the bus because they’ve got no centre-halves. They stick to the same philosophy.
This is as bad a football as you’ll see, at the moment.
Even West Brom are going and having a go. Newcastle went to Everton and had a go. Of course, it was a from a base, but you can’t just sit 10 behind the ball and just hope.
It’s just hope football. Hope that they score first and then they have something to play for.
There is one thing that will never change in football. The centre forward is only as good as the people that are giving him the ball, and the people that are giving him the ball are only as good as the centre forward they are giving it to. That’s because the centre forward will make a bad ball into a good ball and score, and vice-versa.
Spurs against Chelsea, I don’t care if that’s Sergio Aguero, in his absolute pomp, playing up front for Spurs, he isn’t having a shot. Okay, in the end, Vinicius did have a great chance at the end, but he’s probably missed that because he’s freezing cold. He was standing up front on his own with nothing to do.
It’s hard to be a forward-thinking player in this team. What Kane and Heung-Min Son are doing is pulling up trees. To do what they were doing with the way Spurs are playing, it was incredible.
We’ve all seen teams play like this, of course we have, but not with the quality of squad Spurs have. I was so disappointed in Spurs. I could not believe what I was watching.
Can Jose turn things around?
It’s hard because over the years this style has worked for Mourinho. He’s been great, but I don’t know whether he can turn it around.
“It’s hard because when you’ve won what he’s won in the game, you ask yourself why you should have to change. That’s up to him and it’s a hard thing, but things do change. We don’t wear flares and turn-ups anymore.
They come back in for a time and they go back out. Time changes.
It’s alright saying you miss Harry Kane, but even when Kane plays it’s not great football. You are relying on two things: Kane to get the ball and turn, and with his great vision pass the ball to Son. Now, Son looks completely and utterly lost without Kane. He’s wondering ‘who is going to get me the ball?’ Who is going to put the ball through the eye of a needle?
If you are going to play the way they played against Chelsea, you have to play Harry Winks because he keeps hold of the ball. If you aren’t going to have a lot of the ball, you’ve got to play when you’ve got the ball, otherwise you end up giving it straight back and we start all over again.
It was a walk in the park for Chelsea for a big London derby. It was Chelsea’s big game and it was a walk in the park. It’s also Spurs’ second-biggest game after Arsenal, and it was so disappointing from them.
— to www.skysports.com