Why Jose Mourinho's Tottenham are Destined for a Late Season Resurgence

James Cormack
Tottenham Hotspur v Burnley FC - Premier League
Tottenham Hotspur v Burnley FC - Premier League / Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
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This was not supposed to happen.

Mauricio Pochettino was not supposed to be unemployed. Tottenham were not supposed to look like they were coached by Tim Sherwood anymore and record-signings were not supposed to be woefully unfit.

Mauricio Pochettino was sacked by Spurs in November, just five months after guiding the club to a Champions League final
Mauricio Pochettino was sacked by Spurs in November, just five months after guiding the club to a Champions League final / IAN KINGTON/Getty Images

But hey, we weren't supposed to endure a global pandemic which would bring the world to a standstill, grinding football to an unprecedented halt.

And from the most selfish of perspectives, COVID-19 may have been the ultimate blessing in disguise for Jose Mourinho's Lilywhites.

But to fully understand the saving grace of a deadly pandemic for a football club, let's throw it back just a wee bit to the start of March...

After Jan Vertonghen had given Spurs an early lead in their FA Cup fifth round clash with Norwich, the hosts' lack of assertiveness and unwillingness to double or triple their lead eventually saw them pay the price, as Michel Vorm continued his stellar errors-to-starts ratio after spilling Kenny McLean's long-range effort into the path of a welcoming Josip Drmic with 12 minutes remaining.

And following an incredibly entertaining extra-time period which saw Gedson Fernandes shine - up until he actually had to, you know, shoot - the inevitable happened.

Tim Krul was the hero as Norwich beat Spurs 4-3 on penalties to progress into the FA Cup quarter-finals
Tim Krul was the hero as Norwich beat Spurs 4-3 on penalties to progress into the FA Cup quarter-finals / Alex Davidson/Getty Images

With the Canaries boasting a shot-stopper who was bloody brought on in a World Cup quarter-final to specifically stop people from scoring from 12 yards, Spurs fans were well aware of their destiny...

And a pair of Tim Krul saves and an Eric Dier brawl (with a fan) later, that was seemingly it. Season done. Mourinho's appointment seemingly worthless.

Worse still, Spurs would follow up their FA Cup exit with a uninspiring, to say the least, 1-1 draw at Burnley - with the Spurs boss lambasting Tanguy Ndombele for his first-half display post-match - and an error-ridden 3-0 defeat at RB Leipzig which saw them exit the Champions League at the first knockout phase.

In the space of nine months, Spurs had gone from chasing unthinkable European glory to complete obscurity, with things unravelling at a frightening rate in north London.

Marcel Sabitzer scored twice in RB Leipzig's 3-0 victory over Spurs as the progressed into the quarter-finals of the Champions League
Marcel Sabitzer scored twice in RB Leipzig's 3-0 victory over Spurs as the progressed into the quarter-finals of the Champions League / Soccrates Images/Getty Images

But now, as I write this today (May 27), this weird 'optimism' thingy regarding Spurs' short-term future is suddenly overwhelming.

Despite holding no hope of silverware and currently occupying eighth in the Premier League table, four points adrift of Manchester United in fifth (the potential final Champions League spot), Mourinho's welcoming announcement of a fully fit squad has thrust the Lilywhites back into contention.

Jose's wish from February to have all his injured players back has finally come true. Little did he expect, however, to still have nine games left in the 2019/20 season when this day arrived.

And after weeks of tepid, directionless and porous displays before the suspension, the Lilywhite faithful are finally set to enjoy a watchable Spurs side.

However, the biggest winner from all of this is without question Giovani Lo Celso's poor old back.

Giovani Lo Celso has emerged as Spurs' player of the season following an inspiring run of form before the break
Giovani Lo Celso has emerged as Spurs' player of the season following an inspiring run of form before the break / Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Players and manager are reportedly eager to return, while Charlie Eccleshare in a recent article for The Athletic noted how Mourinho is using this time efficiently (ill-advised one-on-one sessions aside) to prepare Spurs for a late season surge.

The focus has generally been psychological as opposed to tactical, with Mourinho keen on establishing strong bonds with every single member of the first-team through frequent WhatsApp messages amid a period of disfunction for the club.

It's been the perfect time for Mourinho to galvanise a broken squad with the man-management skills he prides himself on. And while the on-field effect remains to be seen, there's little doubting the Spurs squad seem to be rather cohesive despite the unprecedented circumstances.

At the end of the day, this is a Spurs side blessed with bags of talent and one which is more than capable of overcoming a four-point deficit in nine games.

The boost of Harry Kane's return is obvious; not only can he score at a prolific rate and drop deep to create like a seasoned number ten, but the England skipper is a leader in the Spurs dressing room, while his capability to win aerial duels from long balls and allow the likes of Dele Alli to thrive around him is pivotal in Mourinho's favoured asymmetrical 4-2-3-1 system.

In the absence of their talisman, Alli was often forced to play in a withdrawn number nine role which led to significantly lower levels of attacking performance, as their main outlet had been removed.

With Kane in the side since Mourinho took over, Spurs averaged 2.2 goals a game. Without him this figure dropped to 1.2.

So no, for those who ever asked: Spurs are not better off without one of the finest forwards on the planet. Weird that.

Spurs' usual saviour Son Heung-min is also back, fresh from his three-week military service in South Korea, after fracturing his arm in the last-gasp victory over Aston Villa back in February. The 27-year-old provides Mourinho with an elite counter-attacking threat and ultimately another source of goals - his 16-goal tally in all competitions this term is second behind Kane.

Steven Bergwijn, whose ankle injury epitomised Spurs' woes, isn't quite 100% but should be ready to go for the season's restart. The Dutchman has impressed since his January arrival from PSV and provides tactical flexibility along with depth in attacking areas.

And, dare I say it, even the generationally gifted Ndombele is looking trim. Watch out, people.

Nevertheless, the tools are in place for the pragmatic, strategic and adaptable Mourinho to thrive in an eerie environment when the Premier League makes its long-awaited return.

Tottenham's clash with United, which has reportedly been pencilled in as the first game back on either June 19 or 29, will be a good indicator as to whether Mourinho's tireless work over the past few months has paid off.

Michael Regan/Getty Images

The Portuguese boss has a mightily talented squad at his disposal and overall, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Lilywhites shoot up the table before the season reaches a conclusion.

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