Tottenham’s Revival: Another Miracle by Judas
Tottenham look a serious contender for Premier League title this season under Jose Mourinho. AFP
“By being with me, I can help you explode.” This is what Jose Mourinho promised Harry Kane in Tottenham’s latest docuseries, All or Nothing. And explode he did. Since then, Kane has been involved in no less than 20 goals and assists in just 13 games. Tottenham are also hot on Liverpool’s tail, sitting at 2nd, just 3 points behind the league leaders. But this is all very surprising, to say the least. Despite of reaching the Champions League final under Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs had a dreadful run last season. Much wasn’t expected when Jose took over just mid-season last year, but since the start of the 2020/21 season, Spurs have surprised everyone by mounting a strong title challenge. It is safe to say, they very much are in the race to win the silverware, and that Jose Mourinho has been the mastermind behind the revival of a team that looked like it would slump like Arsenal.
Spurs played a typical 4-2-3-1 formation under Mauricio, characterized by high-intensity pressing, well-structured transitions and a defensive wall that was difficult to breach for most teams in the league. But, over a period of 5 seasons under Pochettino, the Tottenham stars failed to win a single trophy, and that brewed a narrative that no matter how well they play, silverware isn’t in Spurs’ fortune for some time. Gradually, the team lost its motivation. The intensity in pressing was lost, the general sharpness and desire to perform slowly dissipated away. This was partly due to personal issues and a loss of the dressing room for the management, but also because Pochettino was never a very motivating figure to begin win.
November 2019, enter Jose Mourinho. The Special One, the manager who wins trophies for fun, the man who managed the greatest Chelsea and Inter Milan teams in history. Who better to revive a team that was presumably doomed to failure?
Mourinho transformed Spurs on a similar model that he employed at Porto, Chelsea and Inter. A hybrid of the Park the Bus tactic, electric counter-attacks and individual brilliance, Mourinho’s 3-4-3 at Spurs has outdone itself. The team conveniently sits in its own half, allowing the opposition to pass the ball around in the middle of the pitch and have as much possession as they like, but the players pounce on the ball with strength and confidence as the play enters the final third on the Spurs’ side of the pitch. An example of this is the 0-0 draw at Chelsea, who had 61% of the possession and attempted 13 shots, none of which ended up in goal. Mourinho’s defence has always been hard to break, and they have conceded less than 1 goal per game on average this season. Instrumental to these statistics are the likes of Eric Dier and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, who fulfil a Makelele-type role in Mourinho’s defensive blueprints. Noticeably, Hojbjerg has had insane recovery rates this season, and his expertise as a defensive midfielder have been compared to the likes of N’golo Kante. This midfield cover is essential for the counter-attacking tactic, as the ball is not allowed to go too deep in the Tottenham half, but is rather quickly set in motion for the attack.
But the defence is perhaps not the most notable feature of this spurs side. Tottenham’s attack has been breathtaking to say the least. As soon as they get on the ball, the transition from one box to the other takes a mere 15-20 seconds. While the opposing team are caught hot on their heels, Mourinho’s men clinically slide the ball in the net. That has been the summary for most of their goals this season, the latest victim being the title defenders Liverpool themselves.
This proficiency in counter-attacking play is centred around Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, who stand at an aggregate of 34 goals and assists in 13 premier league games this season. They are backed by the likes of Lucas Moura and Steve Bergwijn, who are important accessories in Mourinho’s master plan. Spurs play skillfully with these personnel. Their attack is characterized by quick passes, incisive runs into spaces, and playing the ball diagonally so as to stretch the opposition. Near box, the ball is almost always fed either to Kane or Son, who finish clinically to give spurs the advantage in the game.
Obviously, this plan has a flaw that could prove to be fatal. If either of Son or Kane get injured for several months, the entire counter-attacking system could fall apart. Even with the likes of Gareth Bale warming the bench, Mourinho needs a player in the January transfer window as a backup plan, or his team could be at risk of falling apart.
Mourinho has found the right balance in defence and attack at Spurs, but perhaps his most important contribution to the squad has been the immense levels of motivation and confidence with which they play. This aspect of football was missing at Manchester United for Jose, but as is visible by their on-the-pitch performance and off-the-pitch attitude, spurs players are positive and have trust in their manager. Given all this, my money is still on Liverpool to win the Premier League, who seem a tad bit too strong for an evolving team like Tottenham. But the team building is strong and so they are likely to push themselves to their limit to finally win a trophy, and of course, who better to end the trophy-drought at Spurs than Judas himself?