As the mask peeled away from Jose Mourinho’s advertisement for a middle-aged reinvention, so returned the incredible sulk. Prior to the enforced break, Tottenham were combusting in a succession of fireworks: injuries to Harry Kane, Moussa Sissoko, Son Heung-min and Steven Bergwijn; defeats against Chelsea, Wolves and Norwich. In fact, if anything, the break came as a cushion against Spurs’ free-fall. Without a win in their last six games and nursing a limp Champions League exit against RB Leipzig, the picture was bleak and the light was vanishing with each passing day.
The absence of a recognised No 9 to call on in Kane’s absence, in particular, had left Spurs lopsided and lacking the clear system Mourinho had promised. Yet, now, the sight of Eric Dier hurtling into the stands feels like a distant memory. Spurs are all but injury-free and Mourinho has had an extensive period to relay his vision to his players – even stretching to those furtive training sessions in Barnet during the lockdown.
League position: 17th
League form: WWLLD
Next three fixtures: Manchester United (H), West Ham (H), Sheffield United (A)
Cups: lost in FA Cup fifth round against Norwich on penalties, lost to RB Leipzig in Champions League last-16
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Of course, as has often been the case, the burden will fall on Kane to carry Spurs out of their troubles. His 11 goals in 20 games this season are already invaluable – a true striking threat the squad is lost without – but it’s the captain’s presence, leadership and balance he provides – capable of spearheading attack or dropping into midfield and acting as a playmaker. Without him, Spurs are deprived of so many dimensions. The pace and incision of Son Heung-min – fresh home from completing his military service in South Korea – and January signing Steven Bergwijn either side of Kane will form one of the most exciting attacking trios in English football.
Perhaps, too, the break will have come as a much-needed rest for the squad. It was only in November, after all, that Mauricio Pochettino was unceremoniously sacked as Spurs languished in 14th place and still licked the scars of that harrowing 7-2 Champions League defeat against Bayern Munich. After such a long attachment to the Argentine and his ingrained tactics, instantly transitioning into the volatile era of Mourinho is no easy feat.
The question that remains, as Mourinho looks to re-inject his players with grand bursts of optimism, is whether it is already too late. As Hugo Lloris said last week, to have any hope of securing an unlikely spot in the top four, Tottenham simply “don’t have the right to lose games”. With their resuming fixture coming against Manchester United, the entire trajectory of the remainder of this season could spin on one rust-shaking performance.
Mourinho will understand the value in that momentum better than anyone. Arsenal and Leicester aside, it is a favourable run-in, and with Manchester City’s Champions League ban still being heard, a turbulent season could still leave Spurs with their heads up – and one Mourinho could even celebrate as a success.
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