Pundits Jamie Redknapp and Graeme Souness agreed that Mourinho’s approach was “not an easy watch” and questioned whether Tottenham’s creative players like Giovani Lo Celso can enjoy playing under the Portuguese.
Spurs supporters, they agreed, would only “buy into” the approach if the team keeps winning.
Their scepticism came in the wake of another typical Mourinho performance, with Spurs scoring two superb counter-attacking goals through Heung-min Son and Harry Kane before retreating into a defensive shell for the entire second half. They finished the game with a little over 30 percent possession.
There are legitimate questions as to whether Mourinho’s football can still deliver titles – particularly outside a campaign distorted by the pandemic – but this felt like an odd time to raise them, as Spurs moved back to the top of the table with a comfortable victory over their rivals.
Mourinho’s Spurs boast the best defensive record in the division and the joint-best attack, and yesterday’s win further demonstrated their resilience and staying power in the title race.
Spurs’ commitment, particularly in the second half, made it obvious that the players are enjoying playing under the 57-year-old, as they flung himself in front of shots and crosses, and snapped and snarled into tackles, led by the superb Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. Lo Celso, Kane and Steven Bergwijn may be creative but they also loved niggling Arsenal.
“The way we’re setting up is suiting us,” said Kane afterwards, discussing his partnership with Son, which is increasingly groundbreaking.
It is now clear that the relentless attacking football from Mourinho’s side in the 6-1 win at Manchester United, the 5-2 win at Southampton and in the first half of the 3-3 draw with West Ham is unlikely to be repeated this season.
Spurs have effectively shut up shop since Manuel Lanzini’s last-minute equaliser for the Hammers, conceding just once since – a goal that should never have stood against Brighton – and dropping just two points from six matches in last weekend’s 0-0 draw at Chelsea.
Mourinho has demonstrated that Spurs can play both ways – but he will always opt for his way, and the collapse against West Ham was enough to convince him that defensive resilience remains the cornerstone of title-winning sides. This contain-and-counter approach is here to stay.
“We defended well,” said Kane. “I can’t remember them creating too many chances. But that’s what you’ve got to do. Sometimes you just have to defend and sit deep and soak up the pressure.”
As for the supporters, judging by the reaction of the 2,000 who returned to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for the first time since March, they are also enjoying every minute of Mourinho’s cool, calculating side.
To suggest they will only go along with the football while the team is successful is true of almost every fanbase and every style of play.
Spurs fans are not as choosy as they are characterised and there is plenty to set the pulses racing in this side’s electric counter-attacking and full-throttle commitment. As it stands, Mourinho’s approach is working and it has fans – and perhaps even the players – dreaming of an historic season.