There’s a fair amount of pseudo-intellectualism in football writing.
That’s not to say most writers aren’t great at what they do – by and large most are – but there are a few topics where our natural biases can cloud our judgement, to the point where we dismiss the most basic part of what we should be reporting on, that being what literally happens on the pitch.
There’s also a slight habit of ignoring the occasions when you’re wrong, so this writer is going to put his head on the chopping block by referencing an article written in September simply titled: ‘Watching Tottenham Under Jose Mourinho Is Just Sad’.
At that point, it was sad. Spurs had just lost to Everton 1-0 on the opening day and it felt like a continuation of the negatives that had dogged the side before and during the restart.
But if you’re presented with fresh evidence, a new identity and an excellent position in the Premier League table, you ought to be able to admit you were wrong.
Obviously, as a pseudo-intellectual, this writer isn’t going to do that. We’re never wrong. But off the back of a 2-0 win over Manchester City, massive kudos have to be thrown Jose Mourinho’s way. Let’s face it, the squad he inherited in November last year was an absolute mess.
There were contract issues all over the place, worries over the futures of the club’s best players if Champions League football wasn’t secured, and the early results of the 2019/20 season were so sad and demoralising. The thought of a jarring shift from Mauricio Pochettino to Mourinho was always going to be tough for fans to comprehend.
That feeling lingered throughout the latter stages of last term, but there were signs of recovery through wins against Manchester City and Arsenal.
But while that win against Pep Guardiola’s side last season was more of a backs-to-the-wall, defend for your lives performance, Sunday’s victory showed a Spurs team at ease with their responsibilities and ideals.
The early goal helped. A lot. If you’re going to set out your stall for a counter-attacking game plan against one of the league’s best attacking teams, an early goal is massively beneficial.
But Tottenham didn’t go out with such a game plan looking confused. For the entire 90 minutes, they were in control and confident. They knew City have been defensively weak and suspect and started quickly, with Harry Kane’s clever positioning allowing Tanguy Ndombele to exploit some dodgy positioning from Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte with a lob over the top for Son Heung-min.
An Ederson rush and a nutmeg finish later and Tottenham had their early lead – the ideal platform to build upon.
City had grievances over their disallowed Laporte goal and a potential handball against Moussa Sissoko, but ultimately it was their job to break down the wall Spurs had put up. Guardiola spoke after the game about how City were better in many departments, and while the stats may paint that picture, it’s disingenuous to suggest Spurs weren’t full value for their win. Because they were. There can be no arguing about it.
The strength in depth Tottenham now have was showcased in the second goal. Giovani Lo Celso took just 35 seconds to score after replacing Ndombele, the Argentina international taking advantage of another Ederson charge to slip the ball through the Brazil international’s legs again.
In all honesty, it’s not a style of play one can enjoy too much during the actual match. When the attacks are mounted wave after wave, the fan just sits looking at the screen praying no chink in the armour presents itself.
But after the game? That winning feeling rises to new levels. The amount of satisfaction after a win of such magnitude, against a team who should be vying for the Premier League title, is ridiculously high and Mourinho should be lauded far and wide for his – yep, you guessed it – masterclass.
Eric Dier and Toby Alderweireld are in their own right two good footballers – especially the latter – but the pair have had their issues over the past year or so. To see those two make as many blocks and clearances as they did was incredible, with the only downside being the nasty adductor injury Alderweireld picked up that’ll rule the Belgian out for a fair chunk of time.
Mourinho and Tottenham did not seem a good pairing back in October, but after nine games they have 20 points, their third best start to a Premier League season ever.
He might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but we must now start disassociating Mourinho with his stint at Manchester United. He made mistakes, of course, but that club remains riddled with issues from top to bottom. He’s addressed problem areas in his new squad, with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg sorting out the midfield to a ludicrous degree, and now Spurs have a team capable of competing, especially now, in the weirdest of all seasons.
It’s scary to say, especially just one game in to such a hard slate of fixtures, but Tottenham are right in the mix for success this season. Mourinho has managed to reenergise and improve a squad that was on its last legs in the last campaign, and Spurs are reaping the rewards.
We’ve all taken pops at him over the years, but right now Mourinho deserves nothing but respect. Respect. Respect, man. Respect.
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