For the first time in his storied career, Jose Mourinho started a league season with a defeat. Facing a freshly reinforced Everton at home, Mourinho’s Spurs side lost 1-0. Immediately after this, Mourinho faced the same criticism he has been facing for the past decade: outdated tactics.
But Tottenham’s visit to St. Mary’s was Jose Mourinho’s personal reply to every single one of his critics. Spurs started positively, having a goal ruled out by VAR due to offside by the slimmest of margins. But then, as Mourinho admitted after the game, his team lost control. Ralph Hassenhuttl’s counter-pressing strategy gave Spurs very little time on the ball, and a long ball in behind the low block coupled with a fantastic finish from Danny Ings meant that Spurs went behind.
They never did recover in the first-half, despite managing to score in stoppage time. But it was the second-half performance, which stemmed from tactical changes at half-time, which cements Mourinho’s place as ‘The Special One’.
Last season, Spurs relied heavily on Heung-Min Son for goals. Despite Harry Kane’s return to full fitness, Mourinho saw no reason to inhibit Son’s tendency to make runs in behind the opposition lines. Harry Kane was employed as a sort of false nine from the beginning. In the buildup to the first goal, Tanguy Ndombele scored magnificent skill to skin two Southampton players at once and passed it to Kane on the left. The Spurs captain, in turn, put a marauding Son through on goal with a first-time pass.
But in the second-half, Kane switched from the left flank to the right flank, wherein lies Mourinho’s tactical genius. Ryan Bertrand of Southampton had already been booked in the first-half, and thus, would be unable to dive into tackles. So, Mourinho overloaded the right flank and put pressure on Bertrand as much as possible. Matt Doherty, substitute Erik Lamela and Harry Kane were all operating down the right and Kane had a free hand to make any pass he wished.
What followed was a stunning four-goal haul from Son, and four assists for Kane. Son showed incredible composure in front of goal, and Kane’s awareness of his teammate’s positioning was proof of the synergy that exists in the Spurs squad. Harry Kane sealed the scoring for Spurs with a tap-in, taking his goal contribution tally to five for the game. If Mourinho can repackage Harry Kane as Tottenham’s ‘attacking pivot’, the combination of Heung-Min Son and Gareth Bale can wreak havoc against any opposition. Then, this 5-goal bonanza can only be seen as a prelude.
A more negative takeway from Spurs’ thrashing of Southampton is the state of the defence. At right-back, Matt Doherty struggled to impress and was outpaced by Moussa Djenepo on several occasions. Also, Eric Dier’s failure to read the lobbed ball lead to Spurs conceding the opener. Hojberg is yet to fully adapt to the low block system of Mourinho, and needs to show more vision.
Apart from this, Spurs produced what could turn out to be a quintessential performance against the Saints.