I awoke on Saturday morning excited about watching Tottenham Hotspur play a Premier League match. How refreshing! Jose Mourinho is not everyone’s cup of tea as a character – he’s certainly not always been mine – but it became clear to all that there needed to be a change at Spurs, either in terms of the manager, in terms of the approach or in terms of both.
Pochettino seemed pretty unwilling to change his approach, and so Daniel Levy changed the manager. The hard reset that such a drastic change in style brings was both a shock to the system and probably… hopefully… the right course of action.
There is a lot I want to say about Mauricio Pochettino’s remarkable, historic, transformational five-and-a-half years at Tottenham, but that deserves its own dedicated space. Right now we need to talk about Mourinho’s Tottenham.
There was trepidation about the announcement of the line-up, Mourinho is a pragmatist who focuses on stopping goals as much as scoring them – perhaps more-so, his critics might say. But that does tend to ignore his relationship with creative players, and Michael Cox wrote a great piece this week which highlighted his use of players like Deco, Wesley Sneijder, Oscar, Frank Lampard, Mesut Özil; highly traditional attacking midfielders and number tens.
Mourinho’s team selection showed his intent: Eric Dier back in the team to protect the defence, Ben Davies in to play what turned out to be a deeper-lying left-back role, and Dele restored to an out-and-out number 10 position. These were small but not insignificant changes, with Moussa Sissoko ousted from a first-team role and Danny Rose also benched.
Davies excelled in the defensive-focussed role and allowed Serge Aurier to push up on the opposite flank knowing that there were significant defensive numbers available should West Ham launch a counter. Aurier got an assist with an excellent cross, whilst Davies himself progressed the ball in an intelligent manner using crisply-struck passes to find teammates between the lines.
And Dier did what Dier needs to do – he patrolled, he mopped up, he snuffed out danger before it became danger. He looked sluggish and as though he is carrying a few extra kilos, but he’ll shake that off in a few matches.
His inclusion also freed up Harry Winks, who has become accustomed to being the most defensively-focussed midfielder in the team, a role which does not come naturally to him. Winks buzzed about usefully, and although he did not see as much of the ball as he might have done under Pochettino’s instruction, he was able to compete for second balls and allow us to look dangerous on the counter.
Dele was the star though, particularly in the first half. He took the ball under pressure, sucked defenders in, and threaded passes through. He pounced on loose touches and loose balls and caused havoc. He drove at the defence and put them on the back foot.
Expectations were low given how little time Mourinho had with the team on the training field.
It was impressive, however, that there were already signs that some of his instructions had been adopted.
Though Mourinho’s appointment has been met with a mixed reaction, this result will have been met with universal delight… and relief. Spurs had waited 10 months for an away win in the Premier League, and breaking that duck against London rivals is a lovely feeling!