Is it just me, or is Jose Mourinho’s little Tottenham horse slowly maturing into a fully-grown, vicious stallion?
It’s all feeling a bit Chelsea 2014/15 in north London at the moment. The divisive Portuguese coach arrived in north London with a point to prove last November, and for the first 12 months of his tenure, no one was really sure what he had accomplished.
The cold hard facts tell us that the serial winner was the owner of the third-best record in the Premier League since taking over from the beloved Mauricio Pochettino, but many critics and doubters are quick to put that down to stumbling rivals, rather than Spurs’ own doing.
In honesty, this Tottenham team has never quite looked – or felt – like a Mourinho team. Soft at the centre, leaky at the back and stale up top, there have been some real stinkers over the past 12 months.
But on Saturday afternoon, this group of players on the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium turf were a Mourinho team. Each and every last one of them. It was all so familiar. Just like his second spell at Stamford Bridge, the tactician allowed himself a free hit in the first year, insisting his ideas and mentality take time to implement.
That time appears to have come. Spurs were brilliant all over the pitch against Manchester City, as they dispatched the fallen champions 2-0 in a vintage Mourinho masterclass. The man himself couldn’t have asked for it to have been any more textbook.
Spurs struck first, carving open the Cityzens’ backline with a moment of brilliance and ingenuity from the ever-growing in confidence Tanguy Ndombele. The Frenchman rolled his marker, earned himself a yard of space and dinked an inch-perfect pass into the path of Son Heung-min, who didn’t need to be asked twice.
The hosts then dug in, set out their stall and defended brilliantly, to a man. It was something Mourinho has demanded of his players over the course of the last 12 months, but individual mistakes or a lack of shape and discipline has cost them dearly. They got it spot on this time.
And as if to announce his and Spurs’ intentions to take control of the Premier League this year, the charismatic boss introduced Giovani Lo Celso for Ndombele on 65 minutes, and the Argentine midfielder doubled the lead from a blistering counter-attack within a matter of seconds.
From that moment on, there was no way Tottenham were losing this match. They saw it out comfortably, winning free-kicks all over the pitch, slowing the game down, and being the b******s that Mourinho had cried out for thousands of times during the All or Nothing Amazon documentary.
From back to front, they were transformed. The addition of Sergio Reguillon to the defence has levelled up the left flank considerably, as has the signing of Matt Doherty – although backup Serge Aurier deputised fantastically for his unavailable teammate.
In midfield, Mourinho has found his warriors. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is a Mou player through and through, and his presence at the base of the midfield solidifies everything behind him, and kickstarts everything ahead.
His defensive awareness allows Moussa Sissoko to charge up and down the pitch, breaking lines and putting the cover on when needed, while the insanely talented Ndombele finally has a midfield built around him, in which he can do his thing.
Mourinho had struggled to find space for the Frenchman and his maverick craft, and their relationship appeared irreparable towards the end of last season. But he’s shuffled his pack, blown on the top card, and the ace has dropped right out of his sleeve.
And then, there’s the forward line: Harry Kane, Son, and another. In Kane, Mourinho has found his Didier Drogba. Although, the Englishman is more of a hybrid of Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry, all rolled into one super player. The Spurs forward plays the role of scorer, creator and leader, showing all the fight and commitment of a man who has fully bought into the ideas laid out by his manager.
Follow me, and I can make you great, was the takeaway from the pair’s meeting upon Mourinho’s appointment a year ago. Whether Kane truly believed him or not at the time is up for debate, but his faith must be growing in his proven coach and his equally impressive track record.
Saying this, Manchester City were completely insipid against the Lilywhites, and their inability to break down a once porous backline will keep Pep Guardiola awake at night. But he may lose more sleep over the fact he has been outdone by an old rival once again.
Mourinho, on the other hand, will probably be sipping a glass of red tonight, with a small smile threatening to break out across his face. It was a performance of champions, and a statement of intent to the rest of the division.
The circus troupe has been whipped into a well-drilled, surgical, military troop, and with their canny ringmaster front and centre, Tottenham’s case as title contenders is only growing stronger.
Buckle up, folks. This could be it.