Thursday, December 9

Tottenham and Mourinho on the verge of ending club trophy drought



Therehavebeenmoredramaticsemifinals.Therehavebeenmorememorablecupraces.ButJoséMourinhoandTottenhamareunlikelytocare.

Acomfortable2-0winoverBrentford,securedwithaheaderfromMoussaSissokoandaclassicgetawayfromSonHeung-min,bookedSpursintheAprilLeagueCupfinalagainstManchesterUnitedorManchesterCityandthechancetowintheclub’sfirsttrophysince2008.

ThishasbeenaverystrangeseasonforTottenham.ItstartedabysmallywithadesperatelyflatlosstoEverton,butthencametolight.An11-gameleaguewinlessstreakmadethetalkofanunlikelytitlechallenge.SonandHarryKanebecamethemostdeadlysocietyintheleague,opponentsseeminglyunabletodealwithKanefallingdeepandSonrunningpasthimfromtheleft,withStevenBeginn,forthemostpart,awillingdrinkattheright.

Butwithinthose11gamestherewasasubtlechange.Itstartedwithsomefreedom.SpurspassedfivetoSouthamptonandsixtoManchesterUnited.Butthreegoalsconcededinthefinal10minutesina3-3homedrawagainstWestHamledtoareassessment.Mourinhobackedupbesidehim.Tottenhambegantoplayevenmorewithalowblock,lookingtousetherhythmofSonandBeginnonthecounter.

Uptoapoint,itworked.ManchesterCityandArsenalweredrawntoovercommittandwereeliminatedathalftime.Chelseawassoeagerforthepossibilityofbeingcounteredthattheyconcededa0-0drawalmostfromkick-off.Mourinho’sarrogancereturned.Suddenlyitwasfunagain.FootballrememberedwhyhehadbeendelightedwithhimwhenhefirstburstintoconsciousnessatPortoandChelsea.

Amidtheweirdnessofthisseason,hisfootballseemedtomakesense.Thetruncatedpreseasonandcompressedschedulemadeitdifficultforthemoresophisticatedpressureteamstocreatetheirstructures.Fatigue,muchearlierthanusual,becameafactor.Tacticalevolutionregressed.SoccerreturnedtoMourinho.WhentheSpurswenttoAnfieldbeforetheholidaygames,itseemedlikeagamethatcouldendupbeingconsideredattheendoftheseasonasdecisiveinthetitlerace.

TheSpursinvitedthepressure,stayedbehindandscoredthetie.Inthesecondhalf,hepresentedgreatdangerathalftime.Beginnhitthepost.Kanehadashort-rangeheaderoverthebar.Andthen,withaquarterofanhourleft,MourinhopulledBeginnoutandreplacedhimwithasecondleft-back,SergioRegionn.TottenhamlostalltheirattackingthreatandLiverpoolfoundalatewinner.

Fourdayslater,theSpurslostathometoLeicesterandalmostassoonasitemerged,thetitlechallengefaded.Itwasn’tjustthetwodefeats;itwastheirway.Tottenhamthisseasonhasewastedninepointsinthelast10minutesofmatches.PerhapsthedrawsagainstNewcastleandWestHamwereabitstrange,butinthedrawsatCrystalPalaceandWolves,aswellasthelosstoLiverpool,thefeelingwasthatTottenhamunnecessarilyinvitedpressure.

Eveninthestrangeenvironmentof2020-21,acontainmentpolicyisfraughtwithrisk.YetMourinhoseemedtodeliberatelyflirtwithit,asifdeterminedtoproveapoint:thathisstyleoffootball,theanti-possessionfootballthathesoassiduouslyadoptedafterbeingpassedoverfortheBarcelonajobin200,,maystillprevail.

Tottenhamremainsfourth,fourpointsbehindleaderLiverpoolwithonegameless,soitremainspartofthetitlerace.ButthevictoryoverBrentfordoffersamuchmoreimmediatepossibilityofatrophy,onethatalmostseemstohavecomewithoutwarning.GivenagoodbyetothethirdroundduetoEuropeancommitments,theSpurshadapasswhenLeytonOrientwasbroughtdownwithCOVID-19.ApenaltyshootoutwinoverChelseaandasimple3-1winoverchampionshipStokeCitywereallittooktoreachthesemi-finalagainstanotherchampionshipclub.

Howeverdisappointingastheracetothefinalwas,Mourinhowillacceptit.HehaswontheLeagueCupfourtimesandwouldlovetobethefirstTottenhammanagertowinatrophysinceJuandeRamos’teamwonthe’0,LeagueCup.Whateverhappensthen,hewouldalwayshavehimabovehispredecessor,MauricioPocketingo,ofwhomthecriticismhasalwaysbeenthat,regardlessofthemiracleshehasperformedtoestablishSpursasaChampionsLeagueteamonabudget.,neverwonanytrophies.

InAprilatWembley,especiallyifthefanscancomebackbythen,noonewillaskhowTottenhamgottothefinal.Thismayseemlikeanextraopportunity,butyouwillacceptitwithjoy.

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