Making a Defence in the Premier League
The summer transfer window in England was dominated by two topics. Spurs' lack of spending was largely seen as a lack of ambition fatal to their title hopes, although some critics suggested that they would benefit from the stability it affords. Manchester United's desire for a central defender, and Jose Mourinho's vocal displeasure with failure to secure a signing, provided another talking point.
Mourinho has brought Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof to the club in recent transfer windows for considerable sums, presumably planning for the duo to become the side's defensive partnership. Bailly looked impressive upon arrival but has returned from injury lacking assurance, while Lindelof has never settled in the Premier League. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in reserve offer a wealth of Premier League experience and success, but Mourinho has been unable to produce a solid defence from this talented quartet.
This used to be Mourinho's strength, with the defensive stability of his Chelsea sides an integral part of their success. Perhaps too much credit has been given to Mourinho for this, with the Portuguese manager lucky to inherit a rare breed of defensive leader in the form of John Terry. Mourinho's inability to produce a strong central defensive pairing in his time at Old Trafford supports this thesis, while he has persisted with traditional wingers Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young at full-back.
One of Mourinho's targets was Toby Alderweireld, a player who looked on the way out at Spurs but has partnered compatriot Jan Vertonghen in the 3-0 victory at Old Trafford. At his best, Alderweireld is as good as anyone in the Premier League and his willingness to play for Spurs again could be crucial in their title chase. A look at the odds to win Premier League 2019 finds Spurs at 13 with Betfair Exchange, making them third-favourites. Suddenly the lack of activity in the transfer window doesn't seem like such a disadvantage.
Mauricio Pochettino has proven himself to be astute at developing team spirit and a side in which everyone knows their role. This is the antithesis of Mourinho's Manchester United. Where Mourinho has blustered about a lack of support in the transfer window and a lack of talent at his disposal, Pochettino has quietly worked with what he has to great success. Few could have anticipated that Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies would adapt to life at a title contender so productively, but Pochettino's coaching has seen the full-backs go from strength to strength.
Pep Guardiola's coaching aptitude is no secret, with the Spanish manager able to produce a record-breaking side last season with Fabian Delph at left-back for much of the campaign. Guardiola is another coach capable of constructing a defence. Of course, he has considerable financial backing that has allowed him to bring in two of Europe's most promising defenders in the shape of Aymeric Laporte and John Stones, but Mourinho has proven that money alone cannot solve problems. Guardiola's tactical flexibility and clever use of inverted full-backs has given him the edge over most opponents. If Manchester United fall short of the title race this season it will not be because of a lack of investment, but because of Mourinho's inability to deploy his squad's talent effectively.