Tottenham's perfect response sees Jose Mourinho pull out playbook and point to 'something special'

James Robson
·3-min read
Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images
Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

Harry Kane’s reaction — fists clenched and a roar of celebration — suggests he’s bought into the cult of Jose Mourinho. Many more nights like this and even the most sceptical of Tottenham fans will, too.

It was not pretty by any stretch of the imagination. Spurs were uninspired and under the cosh for periods here — but, ultimately, left with three points, a hard-fought win and a place in the top five.

It is too easy to say a 1-0 win was typical Mourinho, but it was the type of victory he knows how to pull off better than just about any other manager. It was not the type of performance to take top prize in any beauty contest, but the type of result that has traditionally delivered titles.

How long before Tottenham are seriously being spoken about in those terms?

If not for the aberration against West Ham when squandering a 3-0 lead in the most un-Mourinho of meltdowns, Spurs would be joint top of the Premier League right now.

As it is, just two points separate them from Everton and Liverpool — a position they would surely have been happy with at the start of the season.

“We know with the team we have got and the players we have got we can do something special,” Kane told Sky Sports, after setting up Heung-min Son’s 76th-minute winner.

“It’s making sure when you come to places like this you are fighting for every point and result. To bounce back and grind these results out, these are the results that count at the end of the season.”

It would be unfair to suddenly characterise Spurs as ‘dogs of war’ on the basis of one match, played in bleak conditions.

Their football has been thrilling for the majority of the campaign. Five goals against Southampton, seven against Maccabi Haifa and six past Manchester United.

But this was the other side of the coin; the contrast required when constructing a team capable of going the distance.

Mourinho is a master of building title-winning teams. His failure at United raised questions as to whether he would ever be able to do so again.

Daniel Levy gave him perhaps a final shot at it on these shores — and the Spurs chairman has backed his manager with a recruitment drive to challenge Liverpool and Manchester City.

That victory against Burnley was achieved with new signings Gareth Bale, Sergio Reguilon and Carlos Vinicius on the bench further points to the potential for this team to improve.

But it is Mourinho and his ability to navigate the unpredictability of a Covid-impacted season that will be pivotal.

That result against West Ham proves even he is not resistant to the chaotic nature of the campaign, but this was the perfect response and evidence that the lessons of that collapse were taken on board by his players.

Davinson Sanchez and Harry Winks were left out entirely after their part in the squandering of those points, while Serge Aurier’s absence was attributed to a “little injury”. Dele Alli was another high-profile omission.

That is the ruthless side of Mourinho. It can be a fine balancing act. The Portuguese needs the players to buy into his exacting standards without alienating them.

The improvement in Tanguy Ndombele this term points to him winning that particular battle. The relationship between the two felt irretrievable after Mourinho singled him out for criticism in Spurs’s last visit to Turf Moor, which ended in a 1-1 draw.

Seven months on and the midfielder was one of their brightest sparks on the night and one point was transformed into three.

In a season of wildly fluctuating results and goals galore, would it not be just like Mourinho to bring a dose of reality and pragmatism to the party?

This was far from champagne football, but the celebrations at the end were all Spurs’s.

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