Tottenham Hotspur’s first clash against Manchester City this season raises the question of whether Jose Mourinho can take the lead in the battle for the Premier League title. On Saturday, the Portuguese will meet again to see if their style of soccer can one day bring them the silverware they dream of.
– Ogden: Everton-Spurs show great goals, terrible defense –
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Perhaps nothing reflects this season’s change in fortunes better than the change between Tottenham and City of Man. Through goals from Son Heung-min and Giovani Lo Celso, Spurs won 2-0 on November 21. This put them at the top of the league for a while, while City dropped to 11th place. Since then, City have scored 22 points in their favour.
Pep Guardiola then remained unbeaten for 22 games in all competitions, including 10 consecutive victories in the league, leaving the team five points clear of Manchester United. Spurs, on the other hand, grabbed only 16 points out of a possible 39 after the win over City and dropped to eighth place, putting the title defense out of sight and joining the leading quartet.
Last weekend’s 2-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion ended a devastating run of three consecutive defeats, but Mourinho had to host another of his tactical “masterclasses” to relieve the growing pressure on his position. How could this happen so quickly?
Wrong!!! No movie name specified.If Tottenham wins a trophy this season, it will be thanks to Harry Kane and Son Heung-min. NEIL HALL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images.
The Son-Kane partnership has saved Mourinho so far.
The ups and downs of Mourinho’s 16 months at the helm at Tottenham have been inextricably linked to injury. Prior to the suspension in March, Spurs’ season was developing at an alarming rate. His son Harry Kane and Steven Bergwein were banned from the Champions League and FA Cup within ten days and Lucas Moura had to play as a makeshift striker.
The three-month hiatus due to COVID-19 benefited Spurs who rebuilt these players. A strong final that secured qualification for the Europa League created a positive momentum that continued this summer with the arrival of Pierre-Emerick Hojbjerg, Carlos Vinicius, Gareth Bale, Matt Doherty and Sergio Reguillon.
Mourinho has praised Daniel Levy’s work in the market on more than one occasion, especially in the crucial weeks of this season when Spurs enjoyed a fine run of 11 unbeaten league games at the top of the standings, culminating in the game against City. Almost any team would struggle if their two best players were eliminated, but Mourinho’s extreme confidence in Son and Kane was evident on that day and beyond. Against City, Spurs faced four shots in 90 minutes and scored only twice. Tanguy Ndombele first served Son and Kane then played Lo Celso.
Son has exceeded his planned goals (xG) to an almost ridiculous level; the same goes for Kane and his planned attendances (xA). Statistics from early January showed that Son’s 61 goals against Spurs at that time were 44% more than his xG, the highest in world soccer. Next comes Kane, who scored 104 goals, 21.33 percent more than his xG over the same period.
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Don Hutchison explains why we can no longer expect an open and fluid Tottenham Hotspur this season.
The success of Mourinho’s plan, which prioritizes defensive stability, depends on Son and Kane continuing to perform as impressively and punishing opponents optimally on the pawns. As a result, their absence is more conspicuous, as it was on January 28, when Kane left the field at halftime against Liverpool. The Spurs lost that match and the next two with silly performances that lacked spirit. Son seemed lost without a partner in crime. Mourinho tried to pass with Bale, another in profile with Kane. He was called up for Brighton and Hove Albion, but then switched to Carlos Vinicius and played against Chelsea in the same form as Kane. Neither succeeded and Kane was recalled for Sunday’s 2-0 win over West Brom, in which he scored along with Son.
Normal service has thus resumed. Mourinho hopes that the elimination effect will prompt his defenders to refocus on eradicating the individual errors that have cost them their heads in recent weeks, knowing that they have enough power up front to score if they stay in the game. The elimination in the fifth round of the FA Cup at Everton on Wednesday after extra time suggests that there is still a long way to go in this regard, but Spurs will certainly be looking to improve their discipline at the Etihad Stadium.
Mourinho’s lack of alternative plans was evident in Kane’s absence when the players were trailing or losing games, even with England’s captain on the pitch. Too often they were passive, even when in the lead, trying to play the game rather than aim for a big lead.
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Steve Nicol feels that Man City have shown a lot of confidence in their defense during their record period.
Guardiola’s changes have paid off
In the meantime, things have been very different for Guardiola. He signed a new two-year contract just days before City lost him to Tottenham Hotspur in September. A sweeping reconstruction was on the agenda, as Sergio Aguero struggled with persistent injury problems, Gabriel Jesus was ineffective, the departure of David Silva was strongly felt and the defense was running away. Kevin de Bruyne still held the baton, but too many parts of the orchestra were missing. Nevertheless, their transformation from that day in North London was remarkable. Since then, they have not lost 22 games in all competitions, played 16 of them without any goals against and set a new English elite record of 15 consecutive wins with Wednesday’s FA Cup victory at Swansea.
Ruben Dias, purchased by Benfica for £65 million in September, has signed several counterparts before this season and forms an extremely confident defensive partnership with the rejuvenated John Stones. But Guardiola, who is often criticized for his overly complicated approach in some games, deserves credit for the tactical changes that have allowed City to flourish without Aguero and, perhaps just as dramatically, to lose De Bruyne, who for so long has carried the creative burden almost single-handedly.
It is no surprise that Guardiola brought in a full-back to play in midfield, but Joao Cancelo excelled in that role, paving the way for Ilkay Gündogan to push forward from midfield and add goals to his game. With nine goals, he has already scored twice as many goals as in all previous Premier League seasons.
With Jesus, the false No. 9, or Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva forming a powerful duo in the second half of last weekend’s 4-1 win at Anfield, City has regained its ability to impress with a mix of movement and magic. They have once again shown a courage that is now being rewarded. Guardiola was quoted as saying that they had to reduce the number of passes at Anfield to avoid being caught out by “the best team in the world in terms of transitions.”
Spurs will pose a similar threat at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday. This will be the 25th meeting between Mourinho and Guardiola. Mourinho has seven wins, Guardiola has 11. The 26th will take place at Wembley in April, when Mourinho wants to end Tottenham’s 13-year wait for the trophy in the Carabao Cup final – a match he is already pointing his finger at to answer questions about his future. He wants Spurs to give him a more direct answer this weekend.
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