Spurs and the NLD: Mourinho Digs In for Victory

In the seventies during the bad old days on the terraces, one north London derby, there was the usual taunting back and forth, fingerpointing and gestures. Then a sudden surge, a scrum, a gap opens on the terrace and in the middle there’s a Spurs face leaning nonchalantly on the crushbar, alone in his donkey jacket, 501s and DMs, minding his own business. Now, Mourinho is that face. We’re Spurs, come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.

I’ve never seen a derby like this one. I’ve never seen a Tottenham side like this one. Whether you saw it as bravura performance or destructively nerve-wracking, it was remarkable and compelling. Two up, then absorb the pressure. By the end, two or even three centre halves were not enough, we want four. Can’t play out of defence, well sod it, just kick it out and wait. By this time, Spurs were so much in control, to seal the deal our tactic was to give AFC the ball. It’s worth repeating that. To win the north London derby, we gave our opponents the ball.

AFC were left bewildered and utterly frustrated. Torn apart by two stunning pieces of attacking football at its finest, they spent a large portion of the game confronting their own deficiencies. Unable to find a way through the outstanding Hojbjerg and the impenetrable barrier in front of our central defence, they were forced out to the wings, able to create a steady stream of crosses which the excellent Alderweireld and Dier duly headed away.

Earlier in the week, Arteta said that to get over their goalscoring problems, he wanted his players to keep the crosses coming in because that would pay off in the end. Mourinho reduced this able young coach to the percentage game. Academic articles about goals and crosses show that there are variables, but crosses have a success rate in terms of leading to goals of between 1 in 49 and 1 in 70. By the way, don’t excited about corners either: about 3.5 % lead to goals. Towards the end, Mourinho reinforced the full-backs still further. A back eight is surely the future of football tactics. How it turned the screw. Spurs had our opponents by throat and Mourinho wasn’t about to let go.

And this is what we get for our £14m or whatever he gets paid. This stuff about mind games is infuriatingly banal. Mourinho’s press conferences are knockabout pantomimes where according to his mood he plays the dashing handsome hero or the sinister melodramatic villain boo hiss. While you’re at it, stick his carefully curated reality show Instagram account where it belongs, in the recycle bin.

However, he has certainly got through to Arteta and Lampard, who last week put his array of young attacking talent back in the box to preach caution. Mourinho knows that stuff about crossing. He did his homework, and AFC were left floundering.

I regret being unable to write more frequently, partly because I don’t have time, mainly because I expend so much emotional energy surviving life under covid, unable to get to the Lane. But when I get time to think and reflect, it highlights how much has happened in a relatively short space of time. After months of uncertainty, Mourinho has got it together. He’s not only found a formula that works, he’s convinced the players that it works.

Recently I’ve been putting a little something together about Spurs in the past 60 years. What comes over is the fundamental difference between the years when we had a sense of direction and those where we drifted into football doldrums, players coming and going while the club stagnated, Alan Sugar’s era being one example. Using these terms, for several months Mourinho was as directionless as Graham, Francis or Terry Neill.  Now, he deserves credit in finally putting a few things together.

One, a few new players make this feel more like his own squad rather than one he inherited. One purchase, Hojbjerg, was inspired. I’m not aware of a player who has made more of an impact on his team in such a short period of time.

Just as important is the way he has turned deficiencies into virtues. Sissoko was becoming a hard-working player whose passing, dribbling and shooting were lousy, so what did he have left to offer? Stick him in front of the back four and tell him to fall into the gap between right-back and right centre back, it strengthens the whole defence. Aurier is a man transformed because he has fewer decisions to make per game. He stays at home, knowing he has cover. No more wandering into gaps. His far-post header to take the ball way from Aub, caught outside the line then comes between ball and attacker to head it away. Not so long ago, he would have had the best view in the stadium as the goal went in. Plus, Dier can be a box centre half, rather than risk being exposed.

If the benchmark of a good manager is getting the best from his players, then Mourinho is doing just fine, at last. His players have clearly bought into his methods.  The same goes for N’Dombele, still a relatively young player learning his trade at the top level, and I need hardly point out, for Son and Kane up front. The devasting duo are a marvel. Kane never ceases to amaze me, one of the finest Spurs forwards of all time, and getting better. For his second, 4 v 2 is not enough, to make sure he drifts inside as Spurs approach the goal to occupy the centre half and give the player on the ball a fraction more time. Son’s goal goes up there with the best NLD goals.

The derby is all about character, who can cut it under pressure, a stress ramped up as the weight of expectation fills the stands while the fans can’t. It’s a captivating watch. Hardly the Spurs Way and all that I hold dear, but I can’t look away. It’s entirely absorbing to see the complete and total commitment the players give to the cause, and what else can we ask for but total commitment and a manager who gets the best from his players. Love the shirt, that’s what it’s all about.

Plus, we’ve seen unforgettable moments of breathtaking brilliance, from Kane and Son especially. Even waiting for these to come brings its own special thrill. And stat fans, I’m indebted to James Maw on twitter who points out that Spurs have not scored more goals in this many games at the start of the season since the sixties.

As the season goes on, if we get back Coytey will have to lead community mindfulness at half time to help us stay calm. I find it easier at home, either squirming with anxiety on the sofa or, in games less significant than the derby, slipping into a zen trance, what will be will be and there is no need to worry (BUT GET IT AWAY!!!!!). I fear it will be far worse for me in the ground, although friends have said that will be better for them because it feels as if we have some influence over the outcome. I’d be interested to know how the crowd who were there on Sunday responded. On TV, the noise was great but the anxiety of levels of 60k fans will transmit to the players.

More to do. The next step comes against Palace, another team who sit back and counter, so we have to find a way through with more possession. Also, we can’t away with Sunday’s tactics indefinitely. In the second half, the gunners clustered players around our man as we tried to get out, hence the number of turnovers. More able opponents will exploit that.

This was a proper derby in its all gut-wrenching, stomach-somersaulting glory, and where would I be without it. A reminder that the Hotspur alone stirs the emotions so, for me a precious reminder of normal life in case I lose sight of who I am. The TOMM mantra: enjoy the good times. Top of the league. Tottenham Hotspur are top of the league. For now, that’s all that needs to be said.

22 thoughts on “Spurs and the NLD: Mourinho Digs In for Victory

  1. Yep as always beautifully written and from the heart. Just two additions if I may : 1. Kane’s thunderbolt was with his left foot and running. Son’s strike – well nothing I can say to describe it!!

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  2. Excellent stuff Alan, helping to put feelings into words. Mourinho is making us re-evaluate just about everything we believed in. I actually am starting to warm to the guy and think he might be as good as he thinks he is. And anyone who can turn Aurier from a howling menace to our goal difference into a reliable defender must be good. Converting Bergwijn into cover for Aurier as well as thickening up the midfield has been inspired. I’ve become a nervous wreck watching our current rope-a-dope tactics take seven points from nine from our rivals. Just one more lung busting outing against Liverpool and we’ll be into calmer waters. Is Hojberg the single best signing of the current era? Hard to argue against that. But Klinsmann not only showed us what a world class player looked like -he also elevated everyone around him. And don’t get me started on Modric and Ardiles!

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    • Appreciate that David. Interested about the re-evaluation and JM. Touched on this – Spurs Way versus 11 men, the tea lady and the kitchen sink behind the ball. In the end, a reminder of what matters. Love the shirt, players giving their very best for the team, players as committed as we fans are. Same as it ever was.

      Regards, Al

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  3. Great write up. I’ve warmed to Mourinho’s charm offensive and, probably due to the fact I’m not forking huge amounts every game, come round to the idea that I’m happy just to get some results for a change and win ‘ugly’. In fact, I enjoyed Arsenal’s frustration as they huffed and puffed but didn’t blow our house down.

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    • Thanks Pete. Mourinho looks rejuvenated and at last I enjoy that but I can leave the charm PR offensive to one side. Really hacks me off – football club not a reality show! Anyway, his focus is truly on the team now and doing a fine job.
      Take care, Al

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  4. Thanks Alan. Good things are worth the wait. The email alert to a new post was most welcome. I’m loving Hojbjerg and so much more. Spurs are on top and Trump is leaving the White House. I am starting to see the vaccine and a trip to the new stadium in my future! Wishing you and all readers safety and good health from this side of the Atlantic! COYS!

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  5. A word of caution. OK, so I’m a miserable eternal pessimist, BUT, can we win the PL playing like this?
    I doubt it, Alan. There is no doubt we’ve negotiated 3 tough games and achieved superb results, like a cobra striking quickly, followed by a python slowly suffocating its prey. There is no doubt that Spurs have a new ruthlessness and steeliness about them, rather than a Spursyness. There is no doubt that Mourinho’s focus is on attaining trophies at all costs, and, whether it’s just for him, the players, the club, the fans, the owners etc., or all of us, I’m with him on that, and have been since he took over (unlike many Spurs fans who were cynical or even hostile towards the chosen one after the memorable but unfulfilled Poch years). However, I fear Jose’ is not confident in the squad’s general creativity or flair, thus relying solely on his plan A in the PL (heavy industry in defence/midfield, with Kane’s hold-up play and distribution linking with Son’s pace on the counter). Maybe it was the Wham game when we led 3-0 with 10 minutes left that cemented his stance, because the earlier Newcastle game, despite being memorable for lovely football and countless creative (but wasted) opportunities, was still a 3 point banker until we were robbed by officialdom in the final seconds.
    Looking at these recent mega-games, we’ve achieved 7 points from just 33% possession (on average), a remarkable un-Tottenham-like stat. Creative moments and possession have been brief but we’ve been clinical and incisive in two matches. Yet, despite jubilation and hope of a dawn finally being realised, doubts remain. As a fan, and/or player, maybe ours is not to reason why, when we’re being led by a tough general with a truly focused plan, but we are surely invested in the idea of whether that plan (which is contrary to Tottenham’s historic playing style) is sustainable long term. Remember, it took a huge effort to overcome Burnley, WBA and Brighton along those lines too, so we’re not just saving Plan A for our top 6 rivals and then playing the dashing D’Artagnan with the rest.
    On a game to game basis, which Jose’ rightly focuses on, can the team keep putting in that enormous effort? It’s arguably a hard watch for many of us, so how is it for the players within that tight structure? What happens when teams park the bus against us, or score an early goal, or even two? Creativity, more than pace alone, will be needed occasionally to unlock teams who have studied our tactics intently. So where is our Plan B, our creative/flair and possession option? We have to allow for Kane, Son and other key injuries/absences, and in the past these have killed, at vital stages, trophy hopes or higher PL positions, because our squad was never well-rounded enough to cope.
    Look, we have a squad that is now filled with greater all-round talent, and Harry Kane is on board with Jose’, as are all the players I’m sure, but Jose’ must know he will also need to embrace the talent he is not using currently. And yes, I mean Dele Alli ..and indeed why not bring Eriksen back this January (with a humbler attitude he could achieve his pre 2018 form), the prodigal son returning? It’s not a backward step. Both men would provide an alternative and vital link again with Kane, Son, Bale, Moura, Bergwyn et al, without compromising the ‘Horatio at the Bridge’ defence/midfield that is the foundation of Jose’s temple. I’m thrilled with Ndombele’s progress (I was a sceptic) and Lo Celso’s (although I’d like him to be more forwardly creative), and I’ve been pleasantly surprised at Aurier’s revival (well, if Sissoko could metamorphosise, why not Aurier?), and pleased for Dier, who’s finally found his best position under Jose’. Thank goodness for Hojbjerg too, but again pray that he, along with Kane and Son, doesn’t get injured/suspended for the biggest games.
    To conclude, I think Jose’ has done wonderful things to get us where we are, and he’s even improved our star man. I’m grateful as any Spurs fan can be, and I go back to my first game in 1964. But I’m mixed on the method. I know that Alli and today’s Bale aren’t the hardest workers, but then neither were Eriksen, Hoddle, Sheringham, Gazza, Ginola, Peters, Berbatov, and even dear old Jimmy Greaves and John (the Ghost) White. I’m not even saying that Alli, Bale and Eriksen (if he returned) should be automatic starters, but (along with Winks) PLEASE don’t underestimate the impact these men may have in some important PL games, Jose’. Or at least don’t wreck their confidence/belief that they still truly belong at Spurs’ top table, because you’ll never know when you’ll need their cutting and incisive edge.

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    • Yikes, CB, that was almost as long as Alan’s original post! Alan, nicely said, although Oct post was almost the opposite, rebuilding again and all that rot. Keep the faith, lads! Season’s Best Wishes to stay safe.

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      • Cheers Ashley, hope all well with you. Credit where it is due – since October, JM has got hold of the team and given them the direction and purpose he took so long to find, and that’s what I wanted to write about. Take good care mate

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    • Thanks as always CB. Great piece. I don’t see Spurs as league winners but genuine top four in this league, where consistency rather than excellence will go further than in previous seasons. There will be a time where the percentages go against us, which will count against us, but we will always score if harry stays fit. I hope that Winks and Dele stay as JM finds a way to gradually loosen the reins.
      Stay well, Al

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      • Thanks Alan. Brevity might be the soul of wit, but some of us like to take the opportunity of ‘expanding’ on both your and our current views of Tottenham Hotspur. You run what I consider to be the best Tottenham blog out there, but I also think we bloggees (?) may occasionally wish to get more involved than simply saying ‘great post, Alan’. Fortunately, however, you have a decent and erudite following, and all responses are valid and polite. A great post from you is a ‘given’, even though I may disagree with parts of the whole, occasionally. But long may you continue to invite responses from Spurs fans who don’t sink to using foul language or nastiness to get their own ‘views’ across.
        On Alli (and I know I keep going on about him), he is a world class player, and they are as rare as hen’s teeth. Plus he loves Spurs, he doesn’t want to leave, he wants to be loved by return, nurtured and, I’m sure, even improved by Jose’s skills. So the only thing that I’m annoyed and mystified about, is WHY Jose’ isn’t building Alli’s confidence, and utilising his match changing skills, even if it’s only from the bench for now? Does Levy really agree with Jose’ on this matter, because I can’t envisage any ‘loosening of the reins’ soon? PSG are desperate to get Alli alongside Mbappe and Neymar, so why can’t our manager see that Alli can still have an important role to play (on occasion) if we’re going to succeed in winning a trophy or two this season?? Alli might not be key for Jose’, but Alli is key for Spurs and our club’s great tradition of beautiful football. .
        Anyway, Alan, you and your family have a wonderful festive season and happy 2021. All the very best.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. HI Alan

    Just wanted to say, your articles are absolutely brilliant, helps me understand, learn and appreciate how and why we play.

    I have missed your articles, always well written.

    Thanks again for your efforts.

    COYS

    Bryan

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  7. I’ve missed your excellent comments, but completely understand the pervasive enervation that has changed a lot of folks’ priorities. Stay safe and here’s to the development of Tanguy, one of the most intriguing players I’ve seen in years.

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  8. Hi Alan, I am Alan in Switzerland ! you may recall you’ve met and chatted with my brother Eric
    locally a few times.
    I always enjoy reading your enlightened articles written with so much style and eloquence, so thanks !
    I doubt we’ll win the league, but who knows ? the season ends in one ! .
    I’m going for a win today at CP but no room for complacency. Would also like to see Dele be given more of a chance, but while we’re top of the league, JM rules. Cheers and au revoir, Swiss Al

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  9. Good to hear from you, funny to bump into people I don’t know but they’ve read the blog, one of the best things about writing about Spurs, there’s always someone ready to have a chat. Thanks very much for your kind words, hope life in Switzerland is treating you and your family well, happy holidays and let’s hope we emerge after New Year in the top four at least.

    All the best, Alan

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