Jose Mourinho’s first game in charge of Tottenham Hotspur was, by all accounts, a success. For an hour, before collapsing with what Mourinho said was fatigue, they looked to be playing the Hammers off the park.
1) Things haven’t quite continued in the trajectory that they looked like they might after that first game.
2) I was more sceptical than most about how much credit should be given to Mourinho for that performance against West Ham.
My question for this week’s newsletter: how much does 1 make 2 more legitimate?
The case for yes
My scepticism about Spurs’ match against West Ham, and how much credit Mourinho deserved for it, came from the match-up between the two sides.
As I saw it, Tottenham’s biggest strength in their squad is the quality and depth of their attacking midfielders. Dele Alli, Son Heung-Min, Lucas Moura, as well as Harry Kane when he drops deep and Erik Lamela off the bench — any team would be worried about facing that.
West Ham aren’t just any old team, though. Under Manuel Pellegrini they were one of the worst at defending their midfield. Declan Rice swept up as much as he could, but he and Mark Noble never exactly formed a solid boundary for stopping teams progressing through them. This problem was compounded by an apparent instruction to West Ham’s central defenders to keep their line, rather than stepping up to apply pressure to players in between the lines.
With those two things in mind, my argument is that West Ham were almost uniquely positioned to be a good side for Mourinho’s slightly-more-direct Spurs to play against. Pellegrini’s side never put much pressure on Tottenham’s centre-backs, allowing them to pick passes through the porous midfield.
One could make the argument that Spurs’ bumps in the road since then have highlighted that Mourinho’s influence on the team has been limited, and that I had gauged the limits of it in the match against West Ham.
The case for no
Tottenham playing patchily in future matches doesn’t necessarily mean that I was right about their performance in their first game under Mourinho. I may have been being overly sceptical and/or badly analysing the game, and assuming that I was right just because future results appear to have backed me up.
Also, although part of Spurs’ problems under Mourinho have been a struggle to progress the ball through their own midfield (which fits into my original analysis fairly easily), that’s probably not the only issue they’ve had.
Thirdly, my thoughts on the West Ham game didn’t touch on Mourinho’s work on the defensive side, which he seems to have genuinely improved. In my own defence, that improvement wasn’t exactly in evidence against the Hammers, but not seeing any improvement there makes my scepticism of Spurs in possession in that game look a little more like luck than judgement.
Finally, I haven’t gone back to watch that match again to see if my thoughts on the game hold up. I don’t think that it’d be right for me to claim victory without doing so, looking like I’m avoiding peeking in the Schrodinger box to find out whether the cat of my analysis is dead or alive.