ose Mourinho revealed he had given his players the silent treatment over last week’s defeat to Royal Antwerp, leaving the post-mortem a week and finally raising it before tonight’s clash with Ludogorets.
The Tottenham manager wanted a reaction from his players – and he got one, as the visitors ran out comfortable 3-1 winners in Bulgaria.
Within 90 seconds, Spurs had created a better chance than they did over the course of 90 minutes in Belgium but Harry Kane‘s finish was uncharacteristically poor.
When he struck the post five minutes later, you wondered if it would be one of those nights for the England captain but he soon bagged his 200th Spurs goal with a header.
Lucas Moura doubled their lead after superbly-weighted passes from Gareth Bale and Kane – his 10th assist of the season – as Spurs launched wave after wave of first-half attack. By the time the England captain was withdrawn, he could have easily boosted both statistics further.
Mourinho made four half-time changes against Antwerp but his decision to replace Kane and Moussa Sissoko at the interval was designed to preserve, rather than punish.
The manager will have been dismayed at his side’s failure to keep a clean sheet, however, as Claudiu Keseru reacted quickest at the start of the second half to volley the hosts back into the game.
The introduction of Heung-min Son on the hour immediately restored Spurs’ two-goal lead, the South Korean taking just 17 seconds and one touch to make an impact by squaring for Giovani Lo Celso to score.
Their intensity and tempo was markedly better from the abject 1-0 loss in Belgium, as Mourinho’s players responded to his criticism of their ‘attitude’ – albeit against a limited opponent.
The manager was not completely satisfied with the performance – as his Instagram account revealed immediately after the final whistle – but it suggested last week was a one-off rather than a worrying pattern in this competition.
The night was also served to cement hierarchies in the squad. Mourinho’s team selection was revealing, with Dele Alli, Steven Bergwijn and Carlos Vinicius all on the bench after being hooked at half-time last week and left out of the squad entirely for the win over Brighton.
The selections suggested Mourinho did not trust the quartet to start, and the performances of Kane, Bale and Lucas will have further established them at the top of the attacking pecking order, alongside Son.
Bergwijn was eager to impress when he came on in the second half but Vinicius skied an early opportunity and already looks short of confidence.
Alli and Sanchez were unused substitutes on another bad night for the England international.
Another milestone for Kane
“On to the next one.” Harry Kane has become accustomed to discussing goal-scoring milestones and he always responds by looking to the next landmark.
He put an early miss behind him to reach 200 goals for Spurs on just his 300th appearance for the club.
Kane’s excellence is now so routine it has become commonplace.
But comparisons with other legendary strikers reveal the scale of his latest feat.
It took Alan Shearer – whose Premier League record of 260 goals Kane is chasing – no fewer than 80 more matches to reach the milestone with Newcastle, while Wayne Rooney needed 405 games to reach 200 goals for Manchester United.
Even the great Thierry Henry took 321 games to reach 200 goals for Arsenal and the only current Premier League forward whose record compares favourably to Kane’s is Sergio Aguero, who only needed just 293 appearances for Man City.
Kane is not only ahead of his peers but also comfortably Tottenham’s standout performer.
It has already reached the point under Mourinho where it feels like he simply has to play every important game. That’s a reflection of his brilliance but over-reliance on any player, particularly one as injury prone as Kane, is not always a good thing.
Lo Celso and Bale getting fitter
On paper, there is little doubt that Bale and Lo Celso are part of Mourinho’s strongest XI but the pair are both working their back to full fitness after missing pre-season through injury. Bale is yet to start in the Premier League this season and Lo Celso has started just once.
It was therefore a boost that both players looked sharper than they have done all season in Bulgaria.
Bale’s pre-assist for Lucas’ goal was a one of many deft touches, with the Welshman involved in several slick passing moves. He is already linking up impressively with Matt Doherty on the right flank and, after his goal against Brighton, Mourinho will surely be tempted to start the 31-year-old against West Brom.
Lo Celso meanwhile was at the heart of everything for Spurs but lacked finesse in the final third, occasionally making the wrong decision.
It was therefore the perfect outcome when Son put the ball on a plate for the Argentine shortly after his introduction.
Mourinho afterwards praised his performance with the ball but said he needed to be better without it.
Both players will now have an opportunity to further improve their fitness during the international break, Bale by getting more minutes under his belt for Wales, while Lo Celso may join the Argentina squad.
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