How Ryan Mason’s case for the defence can boost Tottenham job prospects after smart tactical tune-up

·4-min read
How Ryan Mason’s case for the defence can boost Tottenham job prospects after smart tactical tune-up

Daniel Levy wants Tottenham’s next manager to go back to playing entertaining and attacking football, but Ryan Mason’s chances of impressing the chairman sufficiently to be considered for the permanent role probably rest with the defence.

Spurs conceded six times in Mason’s first two games as acting head coach, leaving them on track for their worst-ever season defensively in the Premier League, but Saturday’s 1-0 win over Crystal Palace brought a first clean sheet domestically since February 26.

Mason switched to a back four without the ball but retained the familiar three-man defence in possession, and Spurs restricted a Palace side who have scored freely under Roy Hodgson to half-chances either side of Harry Kane’s winner in first-half stoppage time.

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“We were pretty solid,” said Ben Davies, who switched between left-back and wing-back in the fluid new system.

“We didn’t really give them any clear-cut chances. We’ve actually still managed to score goals but we’ve been shipping them, so it was a case of [Mason saying], ‘Keep the way we’re going with the ball but without it just to go about things a different way’, and I think it worked well.

“We’ve got a limited amount of games, so it’s hard for him to come in and completely change things. But there’s been a clear message that we need to be as good as we can with the ball and tighten it up without it. It’s pretty basic but that’s the way we’ve been training and working. Ryan’s instilled that belief in us that we’re able to do that.”

Mason explained that he wanted an extra man in the press, and Pedro Porro was pushed into midfield without possession, while fit-again Emerson Royal covered behind the Spaniard.

Porro has been suspect defensively since joining for £40million in January but the 23-year-old was more assured in an advanced role, and made Kane’s winner with a fine cross.

“Pedro’s still a young player,” said Davies. “We know the intensity and scrutiny of the Premier League: you make one little mistake and it’s highlighted for the world to see. We all know how good a player he is, we’ve seen it on the training pitch. When you iron out those mistakes I think we’ve got a top player on our hands.

“Sometimes, when you’re new to the club, you probably feel a lot of demand — especially when it comes to the transfer fee — to try to impress. Sometimes it’s about making sure you do the basics and do the simple things right first. I think he did that on Saturday.”

Mason has just three more games to make an impression on Levy, and the frustration for the 31-year-old is that if he had been given the job when Antonio Conte was sacked, a 10-game stretch would have been enough to properly judge his readiness for the role.

Even so, he has earned a powerful endorsement from Kane, who has said Mason is restoring some of values Spurs have “lost in the last few years” and insisted the whole squad is behind him.

One rival candidate is already out of the running, after Vincent Kompany agreed a new deal with Burnley, while former Bayern Munich boss Julian Nagelsmann and Sporting CP’s Rubem Amorim, who are contenders, would both come with hefty buy-out fees, boosting Mason’s chances.

Pedro Porro impressed in his versatile role against Crystal Palace (Getty Images)
Pedro Porro impressed in his versatile role against Crystal Palace (Getty Images)

What Spurs gained in solidity, they lost going forward against Palace but Mason has further free weeks on the training ground before the games against Aston Villa, Brentford and Leeds to hone his new system.

A place in the Europa League, rather than the maligned Europa Conference League, would also count in Mason’s favour although a top-six place is out of Spurs’s hands, with Brighton two points behind, with two games in hand.

Kane has said a seventh-place finish and a place in the Conference League would offer the club a great opportunity to end their trophy drought.

Davies added: “Our aspiration is to play in European football and be involved in as many competitions as we can. We have the squad, we have the number of players, so it’s probably necessary that we are.”