Mourinho makes triumphant start at Tottenham as Spurs end away drought

Sporting News

While many questioned the timing of Tottenham’s managerial change — less than six months after the club reached the Champions League final, and near the end of an international break — chairman Daniel Levy will probably feel he got it spot on.

Of all the gifts he could have given his new head coach, Jose Mourinho, a debut against West Ham’s defence and goalkeeper Roberto was probably the best he could have provided.

Mourinho knows the value of a winning start — he had won the first match in all of his previous jobs in the Premier League. And facing the Hammers, who had taken just two points from their previous six Premier League outings, gave him the ideal chance to maintain that record.

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Three unanswered goals between the 36th and 49th minutes left Spurs cruising. And, while Mourinho will be frustrated that his side conceded twice in the closing stages, the 3-2 win should nonetheless be effective in changing the mood around the club, for the next few days at least.

Spurs' away record was one of the worst features of the final months of Mauricio Pochettino's reign. And, in just 90 minutes at the London Stadium, Mourinho achieved something his predecessor had been unable to do since January — win on the road in the Premier League.

The fact the long-awaited victory came against West Ham made it all the sweeter for Spurs supporters, instantly giving Mourinho extra credit with a fan base who adored Pochettino.

As Harry Kane made it 3-0 early in the second half, the visiting fans gleefully sang: "How s— must you be? We're winning away!"

Pochettino may reflect ruefully on the fact that he didn't get to remain in charge for the short trip across London to face beleaguered West Ham, but it is pointless to speculate about what might have happened if the Argentine had been given an extra week at the helm.

It is Mourinho who picked the team and oversaw the victory.

Spurs fans, Jose Mourinho, London Stadium
Spurs fans, Jose Mourinho, London Stadium

"Eleven months without music in the away dressing room, without a smile, without happiness and they did it," said Mourinho. "I am very happy with them. I am very happy for them.

"If somebody didn’t watch the game and just knows the result, they will think it is very, very difficult for us to win. The feeling is that we were closer to 4-0 than West Ham were to 3-1."

The Portuguese stated ahead of the match that he would be seeking to provide an "update, not a change" and he was true to his word.

The 4-2-3-1 system used at West Ham was the same that Pochettino had used in his final matches and, while Mourinho has said he is looking forward to promoting young talent from the academy, he resisted the temptation to make a statement by picking a recent graduate.

Yet there were nonetheless some notable alterations which give an indication of what might lie ahead, and which players might benefit from the change in the dugout.

For starters, Mourinho has instantly scrapped Spurs' tactic of passing out from the back at goal kicks. Instead of knocking the ball to a center back inside his own box, Paulo Gazzaniga went long every time.

The selection of Lucas Moura also feels significant, given Mourinho revealed this week that he tried to sign the Brazilian for Real Madrid.

The hat-trick hero on that magical night in Amsterdam six months ago, Lucas had only started four league games for Pochettino this season — yet he looks set to become a more regular starter now and made an immediate impact at West Ham.

Mourinho's decision to play with two wingers — Lucas and Heung-Min Son — paid off handsomely as Son scored the first goal and laid on the second for Lucas with a low cross. The pacy pair then nearly combined to score another goal at the start of the second half after breaking from inside their own half.

Mourinho also selected Davinson Sanchez, having previously targeted the Colombian in the 2017 Europa League final, instructing his Manchester United players to allow the then-Ajax center back to have the ball because he was supposedly less comfortable with it than his teammates.

It remains to be seen whether Sanchez keeps his place when Jan Vertonghen is available — especially after West Ham scored from two set pieces — but Mourinho has given the 23-year-old an immediate show of faith.

He has done the same with Eric Dier, another player he wanted to sign, in 2017, during his tenure at Old Trafford.

At the time, Mourinho was looking for a holding midfielder and he deployed Dier in that role at West Ham. But things have changed in the last two years, with Dier regressing and losing status with both club and country.

Given a big opportunity at the London Stadium, the 25-year-old's passing was sloppy, as it has been too often. On one occasion in the first half, he gave the ball away twice in quick succession.

With Moussa Sissoko watching from the bench and Tanguy Ndombele soon to return from injury, Dier will surely need to improve to keep his place.

Mourinho Lucas Moura West Ham Tottenham
Mourinho Lucas Moura West Ham Tottenham

There was much more to like about Dele Alli’s display, and the early signs are that he could be rejuvenated under Mourinho.

The 23-year-old twice freed Harry Kane in the opening exchanges with through balls, and he set up Son's opening goal before playing a key role in the second.

Falling to the ground on the touchline, he somehow kept the ball in play and flicked it to Son, who escaped down the flank and crossed for Lucas.

"He was the old Dele Alli, the Dele Alli of a couple of years ago, that impressed not just England but the world," said Mourinho. "He did exactly what I wanted him to do, with two days of work.

"With important selection of information, I tried to make clear for him exactly the spaces where we wanted him to play, offensively and defensively. He is an intelligent footballer to understand what we wanted and very, very important for the team."

Mourinho is known for producing well-organized sides — sometimes functional rather than exciting — but all of his attacking players delivered in his first match.

The question now is whether Saturday’s match says more about West Ham than it does about Tottenham — whether Spurs would have won regardless of who was in charge.

We will know more after Tuesday's Champions League clash with Olympiacos at White Hart Lane, but the head coach who has been brought in to instill a winning mentality and finally bring trophies to the club has made a triumphant start.

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