The Season So Far
Tottenham’s 2019-20 campaign will always be defined by the departure of Mauricio Pochettino. No other manager has ever transformed a club so much in such a short time without actually winning anything, but his lack of silverware can barely be held against him.
Lest we forget, the Tottenham Hotspur he took over was one ridden by strife and angst, gormlessly bouncing from one crisis to another, avoiding success as though they were allergic to it. They had a host of highly paid mediocrities like Paulinho, Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor on the payroll, routinely embarrassed themselves in the Europa League, and the players’ lack of effort and connection with the supporters embossed their deep and existential malaise. He succeeded Tim Sherwood, whose career has since, predictably, died a laughable, arrogant, incompetent death.
Pochettino left Spurs as Champions League finalists, veterans of two genuine Premier League title challenges, with one of the most valuable, balanced and potent squads in world football. Pochettino spent peanuts to assemble it and forged an identity that more than won the fans over, putting a spring in their step for the first time in decades. To cap it all off, Spurs now have arguably the best stadium in the world. There is a clear ‘Before Pochettino’ and ‘After Pochettino’ divide.
That said, Pochettino’s time was clearly up. His relationship with the squad had fractured, as he had made it clear he felt an overhaul was needed in successive summers, but without fresh blood, they were left with stagnation and increasing resentment. Players like Christian Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen have seen the likes of Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier move on and double or triple their wages, and wondered why they can’t do the same. At the same time, his demands and methods became repetitive and tired, and breaking point arrived.
They lost at home to Newcastle, which set alarm bells ringing, but their 7-2 shellacking against Bayern was an epochal collapse, an embarrassment befitting the Spurs of old. Lifeless away defeats to Leicester, Brighton and Liverpool made it clear that change was needed. Enter José.
It still doesn’t feel real. It may never feel right. But since coming in, José Mourinho has breathed new life into Tottenham. Dele Alli is undeniably back to his best. Harry Kane is scoring screamers again. Son Heung-Min is dribbling the length of the pitch to score wondergoals without hesitation. Even Lucas Moura and Moussa Sissoko look capable of making good decisions again. This is bad news for the rest of the league.
The Season Ahead
If Tottenham beat Chelsea this weekend, they will leapfrog them into the Champions League places. With Daniel Levy likely to let his new head coach cash in on Christian Eriksen and Danny Rose — and possibly one or two others — in January, we can expect them to bring in some more Mourinho-style players. It’s worth remembering that they have already made new signings this season, with Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso certain to offer more in the second half of the season than they did in the first.
They’ve already been to the Etihad, Anfield, Old Trafford, the King Power Stadium and the Emirates, so their big away trips are out of the way. Their Champions League draw is relatively kind. The second half of the season could bring a genuine rejuvenation and we shouldn’t be surprised if they end up finishing second or third in the table.
Chelsea fans know all about José Mourinho’s favoured tactics, but it’s worth spelling out exactly how good a fit this Spurs squad is for his ideas.
In Harry Kane he has his favoured type of nine, capable of bringing others into play while also being a lethal goal threat in his own right; in Dele Alli he has his perfect number eight – a second striker when his team has the ball, a hard-tackling midfielder when they don’t; Son Heung-Min and Lucas Moura are basically prototype Mourinho wingers, equally happy when driving towards goal and when tracking opposition full-backs into their own half; in Eric Dier he has a shameless sh*those midfielder who’ll break up play and start fights with equal frequency. Almost no regular starter is less than six feet tall and most are significantly taller.
This is not a squad that needs enormous amounts of change. This is a squad which simply needs those who want to go to go – now.
Since Mourinho took over, Spurs have won the Expected Goals battles in all of their league games except the away game to Liverpool, and to be honest no team in the world can do any better than that away to Liverpool right now. They haven’t hit the same heights in the Champions League yet, but the swagger is slowly coming back and this match represents a huge chance to lay down a marker. A win here would take them to five wins in six, while giving Chelsea a record of five defeats in six.
Their strengths in attack are numerous: the shooting of Kane; the movement of Alli, who loves playing against Chelsea; the skill, improvisation and ambidextrousness of Son and Lucas; the all-round threat off the bench of Eriksen. There’s no way to defend against all of those threats, especially for a team as open as Chelsea have been in the last few weeks. Fighting fire with fire is likely to be Frank Lampard’s Plan A, but it’s risky at best.
At the back, things are less encouraging. Without the ball, Spurs haven’t been anything to write home about for a long time – the days of their crushing pressing are but a memory. Under Mourinho they’ve only kept one clean sheet and they conceded two goals in each of his first three games in charge – even when they did shut Burnley out, they were fortunate to do so: the Clarets ended the game with an Expected Goals figure of 1.09. Chelsea will have chances.
We shouldn’t expect any changes from Spurs. The same can’t be said for Chelsea – surely Frank Lampard will ring the changes in a bid to end this horrid run of form.
Can the apprentice shock his master? Lampard has already beaten Mourinho, of course, as his Derby County side shocked Man Utd at Old Trafford, but that already feels a long time ago. This is sure to be an energetic, open, goal-filled affair. 3-3?