Mourinho Begins Account at Tottenham with Win
José Mourinho celebrated with a knee-slide and it was the moment when his Tottenham tenure felt up and running. The club’s new manager had wanted to see the real Dele Alli, not the midfielder’s brother, and when he did the emotion came pouring out.
What a piece of skill Alli produced in the 43rd minute and it not only got Spurs away for Lucas Moura’s goal but killed a West Ham team who look to be in freefall. Alli had stretched to keep in a heavy Eric Dier pass and slipped over but, from the ground, he somehow produced a flick that kept the ball in and released Son Heung-min to make the assist. Alli’s move would not have looked out of place in a football freestyler’s clip on YouTube. Who says Mourinho teams have no room for off-the-cuff brilliance?
Mourinho had stressed his work at Spurs in the aftermath of succeeding Mauricio Pochettino would be a process but this was an encouraging start, albeit against a feeble West Ham, who have now taken two points from seven games. Son got things started with the first goal, Harry Kane got the third and it added up to Spurs’ first away win in the Premier League since January.
For West Ham the problems seemed everywhere, although they began in goal with Roberto – a figure to spread panic rather than calm. It was not a good look when the home crowd cheered him ironically in the 80th minute when he made a clean catch. West Ham did fight until the end and, as Spurs eased off, they cut the deficit. The substitute Michail Antonio tricked Toby Alderweireld before finishing smartly but the grandstand comeback never felt on.
Declan Rice had a stoppage-time goal ruled out for offside by VAR and Angelo Ogbonna scored with the last kick of the game from a Robert Snodgrass corner. It was too little, too late and merely papered over the cracks.
Mourinho had made it clear he was not about to make radical changes. He was not “going to try to be Einstein” given this was only his fourth day in the job and the basis of the team he had inherited was sound. Against this West Ham team, he did not have to over-think things.
There were two headline team news items in Mourinho’s long-favoured 4-2-3-1 system; one being the omission of Christian Eriksen, the other the return of Dier in midfield. The central axis of Dier, Alli in the No 10 role and Kane up front had been a staple of some of the best times under Pochettino.
The first half was a slow burner, with errors on both sides, but Spurs were the more progressive and they quickly identified the inside left channel as a potential source of productivity, where Son, despite taking one clattering from Ryan Fredericks, bristled with menace.
The opening two goals came up that flank, with the first following an Alli pass into Son. It was all too easy, with West Ham’s players guilty of standing off. Their defending was easy to criticise on so many occasions. Son executed a simple shimmy and, rather abruptly, Issa Diop was a yard away from him, with the shooting opportunity on. Son banged it low and hard and it almost seemed to go through Roberto.
The second goal was the show-stopper, leading to Mourinho’s delighted celebration, but Spurs had opportunities to score even more before the interval and it was no surprise when West Ham were booed off. Never mind their defending, they were also laboured in the final third, with Sébastien Haller’s soft, deflected header and Felipe Anderson’s poor pull-back when well-placed their only first-half flickers.
Spurs had the ball in the net early on through Kane, following Alli’s pass, only for an offside flag to deny them while Davinson Sánchez almost profited from a wild piece of goalkeeping from Roberto following a free-kick. Son and Sánchez also went close.
Manuel Pellegrini would make all three of his substitutions by the 64th minute as he groped for the solution. His decision to replace the hapless Diop with the unpopular Carlos Sánchez and ask Rice to drop into central defence was jeered.
Mourinho revelled in West Ham’s discomfort, as the second half became akin to a training session, with Spurs in total control. Lucas wasted a glorious chance on the break, dragging wide from Son’s pass, but Kane’s goal came shortly afterwards, a firm header from Serge Aurier’s cross. Where was his marker, Diop?
The resigned silence of the West Ham crowd for long spells spoke volumes. This is supposed to be their biggest game of the season. Kane, who was on the end of some rough treatment, almost got away from Diop for another goal on 61 minutes and West Ham’s late push ensured that the boos on the full-time whistle were not as loud as they might have been. Pellegrini has problems. Mourinho has something to build on.