Whisper it quietly, but Jose Mourinho may just have got his mojo back.
The Lowry-living shell of a manager that skulked out of Manchester in 2018 is a distant memory, and the current Tottenham iteration of Mourinho has rediscovered his swagger and maybe even a little charm.
Spurs have looked so slick at times this season that there has even been talk of an unlikely title challenge.
And in this strange season such title talk isn’t without at least some merit.
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Unusual season could yield unusual results
The 2020/21 Premier League season is not normal. Teams have come into it undercooked, the matches are packed even tighter together than normal, and the biggest teams are stretched right to the limit.
Just look at the second half of Liverpool and Manchester City’s 1-1 draw last week. That’s as clear an example as you could get that the best teams aren’t capable of sustaining peak performance.
That’s not to say that an underdog (and Spurs, even with their big-name manager and show-stopping stadium, are still underdogs) will definitely win it. The likelihood is that the winner will still be one of Liverpool or Manchester City. But there’s a chance for a side to do something unexpected in a way that hasn’t been a realistic option since 2016-17.
Leicester look good, Villa have started with a bang, and Everton have some class. But Spurs have as good a chance as any of those to end the club’s 60-year wait for a title.
Jose Mourinho, Tottenham Hotspur manager
Image credit: Getty Images
An increasingly impressive squad
Any team with Harry Kane in it is capable of pulling off big results. But there’s a lot more to Spurs than Kane.
There is an abundance of attacking options in Heung-Min Son, Gareth Bale, Lucas Moura, Erik Lamela and Steven Bergwijn, while the presence of a genuine back-up forward in Carlos Vinicius means Kane can finally get some rest in the cup matches.
The midfield that took Tottenham to the Champions League final is still in the squad, but the addition of a proper defensive midfielder in Pierre-Emile Hojberg has given the core of the side some steel, and it’s pretty clear that the talented Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso are a significant step up in quality from the Winks-Sissoko axis of old.
Centre-back remains a concern, but Spurs do have options there at least, and the club addressed their issues at full-back by bringing in strong options on both sides of defence in the off-season.
It’s not the perfect squad by any means, but Spurs’ spending in the last two years has given Mourinho a group of players with very few glaring gaps.
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Simple but effective style
Mourinho’s tactical model is well-known. Built on a premise of trying to keep it tight, he uses a 4-3-3 with the forward players largely relied on to provide quality, as opposed to creating chances through a particularly sophisticated tactical system.
That is simplifying it somewhere, but in essence that is the Mourinho formula. And it’s a formula that has threatened to look outdated in recent years.
In an era when the best teams are coached to within an inch of their lives to function within tactically-perfected machines (such as Liverpool and Manchester City), the Mourinho model can look old-fashioned.
But this season hasn’t afforded the opportunity for those teams to perfect their finely-balanced tactical setups, while the physical strain of the fixture pile-up means that sophisticated pressing isn’t quite the all-conquering force it once was.
A simple system with high-quality players may just be enough in these circumstances, especially if you aim to have two players capable of covering each position to allow for rotation and rest. It’s not rocket-science, but then, at risk of sounding like a real football man, the sport doesn’t always need to be.
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However, before Tottenham’s supporters get totally carried away, it’s important to remember that there are a lot of matches left this season… and most of the big ones for Spurs come between now and Christmas.
A strong start
A note of caution about those Mourinho resurrection theories: it’s easy to have swagger when you’re winning.
Spurs haven’t lost since the opening day of the season and went into the current international break on the back of three straight league wins.
Second in the table and above all of their usual rivals, Mourinho’s side are sitting pretty.
They have scored more goals than every team in the league except Chelsea, and no team has conceded fewer (nine in eight matches).
And they have achieved those stats while playing some at-times impressive football, with Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son among the in-form players in the league.
It would be churlish to say that Spurs have enjoyed such a strong start because of having 'easy' fixtures. The old adage that every game is difficult in the Premier League might be a tired cliché, but there’s a semblance of truth to it. However, some games are more difficult than others, and it’s fair to say that if Mourinho could have picked his opening eight opponents then the list wouldn’t have been far off this:
- Everton (home)
- Southampton (away)
- Newcastle (home)
- Manchester United (away)
- West Ham (home)
- Burnley (away)
- Brighton (home)
- West Brom (home)
It’s not out of the question to suggest that five wins, two draws and a loss is roughly what you would expect from Spurs after those matches.
The six weeks between now and Boxing Day are a very different matter indeed.
Season-defining fixture list
Tottenham face an eye-watering run of games, averaging a fixture every three-and-a-half days between the return and of the Premier League on November 21 and Boxing Day, including a cup tie against Stoke and three Europa League matches.
And the severity of Spurs’ Premier League matches during that period is no joke.
The run starts with a visit of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City to north London, and it barely gets easier from there.
- November 21: Tottenham v Manchester City
- November 29: Chelsea v Tottenham
- December 5: Tottenham v Arsenal
- December 12: Crystal Palace v Tottenham
- December 16: Liverpool v Tottenham
- December 19: Tottenham v Leicester
- December 26: Wolves v Tottenham
Two huge London derbies, Guardiola's City, Klopp's Liverpool, table-topping Leicester and the in-form duo of Wolves and Palace...
If Spurs are still within reach of the top of the table after that run then it won’t just be the fans who are confident of a title charge.