“One of the things I said was that I saw a sad dressing room [after defeat to Manchester United], a sad plane and that’s not what I like after a defeat,” Jose Mourinho said before his Tottenham Hotspur demolished Burnley 5-0 at the weekend. “You have to be more than that. You have to be raging, angry, not sad. Being sad will not resolve your problems. You need that mentality.”
It’s clear what kind of atmosphere Mourinho is trying to create in north London. An atmosphere where his side knows how to win, despite knowing the world wants to see them lose.
It’s this sort of siege mentality that led to the Portuguese manager to succeed at some of the world’s biggest clubs. Seeing as he is at a club that hadn’t won a trophy in more than a decade, getting that winning feeling is perhaps the most important task in hand.
Mourinho’s good start to his spell at Spurs continued with the thumping of Burnley at home, meaning he’d won five out of his first six games. Getting that flow of wins and desire to win matches back after the sorry end to Mauricio Pochettino’s era was the first step in a staircase of taking Spurs to a level where they can be considered among Europe’s elite, and now, keeping this run going is the next objective.
It’s still early days and there are lots to work on for the 56-year-old, but within his first three weeks, there have been several signs of change.
The most obvious one has been seen in attack, where the quartet up top of Lucas Moura, Dele Alli, Son Heung-min and Harry Kane have been rampant.
Spurs have scored 16 goals in Mourinho’s first six games, with the front four contributing to 13 of them. Key to that has been the return to form for Alli, who perhaps needed a managerial change the most.
Pochettino gave Alli his break in the Premier League, but the Englishman’s form since World Cup 2018 was dwindling. This resulted in frequent drops from the Spurs and England set-ups.
13 - Jose Mourinho has won more competitive matches against Tottenham Hotspur (13) during his managerial career than versus any other team. Payback. pic.twitter.com/tB3CQvRXKx— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) November 20, 2019
However, since Mourinho arrived, Alli has been doing what he does best; playing just behind the forward and finding pockets of spaces that make him such a menace to defend against.
Getting that high up the pitch was always his strength and getting back there was imperative for his career as he looked to rejuvenate himself for club and country.
Given that he’s been around for so long, it’s easy to forget that Alli is still 23-years-old and just like all young players, he too deserves the benefit of doubt for losing a bit of form. Now that Mourinho’s in charge and in favour of him holding the No10 role, he has taken this opportunity well.
Four goals in six games is a striking contrast to the two in Pochettino’s last 10 months and in this brand-new era, he and not Kane or Son, could well be the poster boy.
Another area where there has been evident refinement has been at full-back and, in particular, Serge Aurier.
Spurs have struggled in that area since last season, starting with the bad run and eventual sale of Kieran Trippier and then the uncertainty at settling at a permanent holder for that role. At the moment, though, it looks like Mourinho is looking to nail the position down for the Ivorian.
His speed and athleticism is crucial for their attacking play and with other players like Son and Lucas to complement him, Aurier seems like a viable option for now.
A lot of the attacking play under Mourinho has had a similar identity: rapid counter attacks to catch teams out on the break and a simple looking at Aurier’s heatmaps for the last few games show how much ground he covers. He has even got himself amongst the goals, bagging two assists and one goal so far.
When Mourinho was at Manchester United, his pursuit of Toby Alderweireld was well-documented. Now with both at Spurs, the Belgium centre-back has not only proven to be stern at the back, but he’s also a key cog in their well-drilled attacking play.
A lot of Spurs’ goals under Mourinho have started with pings from the centre-back, including two of the three against Bournemouth and getting him back on song was another significant aspect to get right at the club.
But while it all looks good in attack, there are still defensive issues – the same issues that hounded Pochettino’s last few months. Saturday’s win against Burnley brought their first clean sheet under Mourinho at their sixth attempt, and some of the goals they conceded have been easily avoidable; mishaps from corners, failure to close down, goalkeeping errors and giveaways.
There is still a lot of fine-tuning required for a back-line that has frequently failed the good work done by the attacking set-up and that needs hurried fixing.
QUESTIONS THAT NEED ANSWERING
It’s still early days, but there are still some selection issues that may concern players like Giovani Lo Celso, who has only been a late substitute in two of the last six fixtures.
With Mourinho seemingly settled on the front four, finding a place for him on the team – even at full fitness – seems to be a difficult task. The on-loan midfielder has had a slow start to his Spurs career and recent happenings will not suit him.
Other question marks can be raised about Tanguy Ndombele and Ryan Sessegnon. Although, looking at their profiles and age, perhaps there are more encouraging signs for them once they get into the flow of things.
🎙️ @RyanSessegnon: "One of the main reasons I came here was to play in the Champions League, tomorrow is another occasion for me to hopefully go and show what I can do. This is another chance for me to move to another level." #UCL ⚪️ #COYS pic.twitter.com/9iayxoOUcP— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) December 10, 2019
Creating winners is an overtime, not overnight thing but in the first 19 days of Mourinho’s tenure, there have been plenty of positive signs. The objective is trophies – that is why chairman Daniel Levy made the Portuguese one of the highest-paid managers in the league and looking at the start, he will be pleased with the progress.
The busy Christmas period will provide more answers about how Spurs’ future may look although for now, the tread towards the path of developing that championing all-conquering mentality looks to have started on the right note.
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