José Mourinho's Tottenham Are Genuine Title Contenders - Seriously

06 October 2020 09:45

Football, eh? Bloody mental.

This is a piece that simply wouldn't have been fathomable just under a month ago after Everton trotted into N17 with their fancy new signings and inflicted a 1-0 defeat on a pitiful Tottenham side who lacked an identity in and out of possession.

But who would've thought it? That after enduring the most chaotic of September schedules which has seen them travel the perimeters of the continent amid eight games in 21 days, Jose Mourinho's Lilywhites would genuinely emerge as title contenders.

Nevertheless, despite a stellar showing against Newcastle - which went unrewarded due to the selfish Eric Dier being born with arms - and their safe progression into the Carabao Cup quarter-finals and Europa League group stages, it's, of course, their remarkable 6-1 defeat at Old Trafford which has sparked such debate.

There shouldn't be any of this "well, if Anthony Martial." baloney either - which, admittedly, there wasn't too much of in MUTV's, sorry, Sky Sports' post-match coverage - because this was a result that was in the pipeline as soon as Harry Maguire embarked on the most calamitous of defensive sequences which allowed Tanguy Ndombele to cancel out Bruno Fernandes' spot-kick within the opening five minutes.

Ultimately, this is a Spurs side unrecognisable from the pragmatic, structured unit that impressed - and failed to entertain - at the end of last season.

Now, they're a relentless attacking outfit who can counter-attack with the speed and efficiency of Mourinho's 2011/12 Real Madrid side which usurped that great Barcelona side in Spain. Not only that, but they now boast a multi-faceted attack which can create via a plethora of methods.

The arrival of Sergio Reguilon from Real has altered the dynamic of this side, albeit one that was in the process of switching before he signed. Nevertheless, the asymmetrical 4-2-3-1 prominent in Spurs' build-up last season is a thing of the past. The stagnant possession, the isolated stars, the over-reliance on Serge Aurier and transitions; they're all distant memories.

Mourinho's change in tack has only been subtle, mind, but it's long overdue. The 3-2-5 configuration in possession still remains but instead of the left-back creating the back three, it's often Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg which facilitates the advancement of both full-backs. Thus, not only is Spurs' capacity to maintain central compactness and retain possession in the first and second phases left uncompromised, but they can also attack through both flanks while also maintaining presence between the lines.

They appear a much more unpredictable proposition going forward this term, with credit undoubtedly going to the 'Special One' and their work in the transfer market.

Ndombele's renaissance, meanwhile, has also been - and will be - key in 2020/21.

On Sunday, United - even 11-v-11 - were overwhelmed in midfield by a balanced and coherent Spurs triumvirate. With the magnificent Hojbjerg's intensity, Moussa Sissoko's energy and ability to provide cover in transition combined with Ndombele's technical supremacy, the visitors dominated the middle of the park - while the Premier League's finest constantly looked to overload United's pivot by making a mockery of Harry Maguire's positioning and dropping between the lines amid another Harlem Globetrotter-like display.

Harry Kane made Old Trafford look like a school playground such was his imperious nature, as his 2007 Tom Brady x Randy Moss-esque relationship with the irresistible Son Heung-min continued to bear fruit.

The South Korean's been another major beneficiary of the drifting away from asymmetry. After often finding himself isolated on the left flank due to his function of maintaining the width in the previous system, the marauding nature of Reguilon means he now finds himself tucked infield where he can rotate with Kane and constantly dart in behind opposition defences to devastating effect - see Son's first on Sunday.

It's not just in possession where Mourinho's men have made stark improvements, however, they've even rediscovered this phenomenon known as 'pressing'.

It was such a staple of Mauricio Pochettino's prime Lilywhites but during the latter days of the Argentine's reign and since Mourinho's arrival, Spurs have lacked an identity out of possession, instead reverting to merely sitting in a deep - albeit well-drilled - block in a bid to thwart the opposition under Poch's successor.

Nevertheless, the contrast between their off the ball display against Everton and United couldn't be starker.

They were sublime on Sunday and their third goal best exemplified their improvements - with Kane picking off an unconvincing Eric Bailly pass on the edge of the United box before an ingenious Ndombele flick found Son who squared for Kane to finish.

Oh, and those attacking patterns Mourinho supposedly doesn't coach because he's so outdated, how about you sceptics have a re-watch of goal number five while having a slice of humble pie. That's the up, back and through concept in all it's glory, with Serge Aurier - buoyed by Matt Doherty's arrival - the beneficiary of a majestic first-time pass from Busq--, sorry, Hojbjerg to get in behind the embarrassingly poor Paul Pogba and finish past David De Gea.

The scary thing is, though, there's still Giovani Lo Celso and Gareth Bale to add into the side which ran all over United on Sunday. At this point, it seems a mere bonus whether the Welshman's nostalgic return 'comes off' or not.

Nevertheless, no matter how good Spurs have been since Ndombele's introduction away at Lokomotiv Plovdiv last month, the overly reactionary nature of fans - and 'pundits' - means dropped points or perhaps even an underwhelming showing against West Ham in their next encounter and alterations regarding their season projections will be aplenty.

But it's a whole variety of factors which has potentially thrust Spurs into title contention, not just the serial winner that's at the helm, his fresh tactical ideas and the mightily talented - and deep - squad at his disposal.

The 2020/21 season is unprecedented. With no fans, tight schedules, etc, the Premier League has already churned out a whole number of unforeseen results. and we haven't even suffered through the first international break yet.

As Jamie Carragher pointed out, we're in for a unique season with the potential of 'another Leicester' seemingly possible.

Nevertheless, injuries - or lack thereof - will ultimately define just how far Mourinho's side go in their title tilt. But thanks to their superb summer window, subtle and new-found tactical nuances combined with frailties of rivals, there's no doubting that Tottenham have a chance to do the unthinkable in 2020/21.

Source: 90min