José Mourinho was not received entirely positively by Tottenham Hotspur fans when he was appointed their manager in November of last year. This may have been surprising given that his track record is unquestionable. Across two spells at Spurs’ cross-town rival, Chelsea, he won three league titles – one more than Spurs across their entire 137-year history.
The negativity around Mourinho’s appointment wasn’t because he was poorly qualified for the job. Instead, it centered around his notoriously abrasive personality. Gone was the young, handsome Mourinho who charmed the English media with his self-assurance arriving with Chelsea in 2004. In his last role at Manchester United, the grey-haired Portuguese manager cut a miserable, paranoid figure who alienated players, journalists and fans alike.
Mourinho claims to have changed. Upon his unveiling as Tottenham manager, he touted his humility and willingness to learn from his mistakes. In a thinly veiled reference to that first press conference at Chelsea, where he described himself as the ‘Special One,’ sports pages began to refer to him as the newly ‘Humble One.’
Tottenham’s results since his arrival have been mixed. A record of eight wins and five defeats before Sunday’s game against Manchester City is respectable, and an improvement on the terrible start they made under Mauricio Pochettino, but the style of play has confirmed Mourinho’s reputation as a coach whose defense-first strategy isn’t always fun to watch.
Their two previous games under Mourinho against the big dogs of the Premier League both ended in defeat. The 1-0 defeat to Liverpool was creditable – Liverpool did not steamroll Spurs like they have most of their opponents this season. If Son Heung-min, in particular, was less profligate with his chances, Tottenham may have snatched a draw.
The 2-0 loss against Chelsea was rather embarrassing. On a personal level for Mourinho, the Chelsea fans were particularly gleeful to rub in the victory over their former manager. The Spurs players should have been ashamed of their poor performance. The two point lead was probably an unfair reflection – Chelsea ought to have scored a few more.
Therefore, it was natural for Spurs fans to go into last Sunday’s match with Manchester City with caution. Man City has not reached the stratospheric heights that they did last season, but they still have the capacity to win games handsomely. Their 6-1 victory over Aston Villa a few years ago demonstrated that.
In the first half, it seemed to be playing out according to the pre-match expectations. Man City was dominant – Sergio Agüero going closest when his shot was deflected onto the post by Spurs’ goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris. It was a fine save from Lloris, stretching to get the tip of his boot towards the ball and feathering it away from the net.
Referee Mike Dean waved away a penalty appeal from Agüero after he was challenged by Serge Aurier in the Spurs penalty area. A farcical period followed — play continued for two minutes before the VAR pulled the players back to award a penalty to City after all. Ilkay Gündogan stood up to take it. He had converted all nine of his previous penalty attempts in his career, so this seemed like a foregone conclusion.
In fact, it wasn’t. Lloris comfortably saved Gündogan’s poor penalty, and Dean correctly refused to give a penalty after Raheem Sterling tangled with the Spurs’ keeper in their attempts to snaffle up the rebound. It remained deadlocked at 0-0 going into half-time, but with City enjoying the majority of chances and possession.
The referee continued to be at the center of attention in the second half. Spurs midfielder Harry Winks was cynically brought down by Oleksander Zinchenko when he was leading a counter-attack from a Man City corner. With Zinchenko already on a yellow card, the referee had no choice other than to send the Ukrainian off. Could this man advantage tip it in favour of Spurs?
Yes, he could. Steven Bergwijn unleashed a perfect volley into the Man City net three minutes after Zinchenko’s red, and that goal was joined eight minutes later by an emphatic finish from Son Heung-min. Man City couldn’t mount a resistance, and despite their dominance when both teams had 11 men, they crashed to a 2-0 defeat to Spurs.
As the full-time whistle was blown, Mourinho had a smile on his face again. This looked like a changed man – a man who bounced across the pitch to embrace his victorious players. His troops reciprocated, welcoming Mourinho as their manager. It’s no wonder he praised them so effusively in his post-match press conference.