Jose Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur recovered from a desperate first 20 minutes against Olympiacos to complete a defiant turnaround and qualify for the last-16 of the Champions League. Here are four things we learned from Mourinho’s first home game in charge.
1. Jose Mourinho’s UCL drama
Jose Mourinho made a melodramatic introduction at his new home in north London as he oversaw a spectacular comeback against Olympiakos at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The 56-year-old made a troubling start as he took his seat in the technical area of Spurs’ new and improved stadium on Tuesday night. Familiar problems- defensive instability and stray passes- saw the hosts concede two goals within the first twenty minutes, something that has never happened under Mourinho’s watch since February 2002, when he was in charge of Porto in a game against Real Madrid.
The Portuguese tactician was initially befuddled by Pedro Martins’ dynamic set-up, but made up for his costly line-up mistakes by wasting no time in making bold substitutions.
After falling two goals down within twenty minutes of game-time, Mourinho made the big call to remove Eric Dier and replace him with Christian Eriksen in an effort to enhance creativity and open up Olympiakos’ astute defence.
In Eriksen, the former Manchester United manager found a man who could comfortably play in the spaces between the wide players and the centre-backs, a decision that clearly bore fruit as the Dutch playmaker set up Aurier for Spurs’ third goal of the night.
With his spectacular home debut, the Special One has managed to overturn what could have been an anti-climax to his return to management and steered the limelight, instead, to his personal record as a winner, having never failed to reach the knockout rounds of the elite European competition in his career.
2. Dier and Winks are in big trouble
A defining feature of Mauricio Pochettino’s downfall at Spurs was his side’s gradual abandonment of the press. Tottenham, for so long, were an extension of their boss’ best traits: tenacity, industry and aggression. The first 25 minutes of Tuesday’s win showed just how far they have fallen.
The midfield was as passive as it has been since the beginning of this season. Daniel Podence and Youssef El-Arabi were the greatest beneficiaries of this, turning with freedom, advancing unopposed and reaping the rewards as the Greek champions blew away their hosts with energy and verve.
Eric Dier was tipped to be the cornerstone of a Tottenham side in Jose Mourinho’s mould – rugged, physical and tough to breakdown. His departure after 29 minutes said it all.
The double pivot of Dier and Harry Winks evaporated for the first goal, with the former in no man’s land and the latter producing a woeful attempt at a tackle. El-Arabi’s finish was superb but it wasn’t without assistance.
Meanwhile, Moussa Sissoko and Tanguy Ndombele watched on from the bench with the former coming on midway through the second half. Both possess all of the qualities Spurs lacked against Olympiacos.
If Mourinho is to revive his midfield with energy and robustness at least one of the two Frenchmen will surely be introduced to the starting line up.
3. Width the key for Jose
Whenever Mourinho arrives at a new club, the big conundrum usually surrounds how his pragmatic approach will impact his forward players. Some thrive, like Eden Hazard at Chelsea. Others look as though their prowess has deserted them overnight.
Dele Alli showed on Saturday and indeed against Olympiacos with his goal that he can return to his best under his new manager, but the wide players in Tuesday’s game looked frustrated, and worse, limited.
The striking aspect of Tottenham’s forward play in the first half especially, was their lack of width. Perhaps Mourinho wanted to tighten his side in defensive transition, but with the ball at their feet Son Heung-min and Lucas Moura looked lost. The Brazilian spent much of the game inside the opposition full back, crippled by the congested centre of the pitch an unable to use his pace.
Ironically, Spurs’ first goal did come from out wide when Serge Aurier found Alli in the box, but a poor cross was given a charitable route to Spurs’ goalscorer thanks to Yassine Mariah miss-kick. Better opposition and Spurs would have trundled into the half time break still two goals down.
The equaliser? For the first time in the game Lucas found himself in space on the right hand side, and the result was predictable. His pull back for Harry Kane was all the evidence needed to suggest that Mourinho’s attacking set up in the first half was too restrictive.
4. Mourinho playing to Alli’s strengths
Another reason Mourinho should play with more width? Because Alli is deadly in the box. The assist would go to Meriah in a just world, but nonetheless the Englishman took advantage because he was in the right place at the right time.
If you rewind to his better days in a Lilywhite shirt, Alli’s elusive movement into the 18-yard box was his bread and butter.
One only has to watch Tottenham’s 2-0 win over Chelsea in January 2017. Two crosses, two headers and two goals. And while Mourinho is helping Alli, the favour may actually be returned as the Portuguese manager is not one to snub goal-sniffing midfielders.
Frank Lampard was a different kind of goalscorer, but nonetheless is a player that Alli can draw from in his post-Pochettino career. Another – believe it or not – is Marouane Fellaini. The Belgian often drifted into the box to provide a threat under Mourinho. Alli possesses this same knack and much more, and should therefore prove to be invaluable to his new boss.