JOSÉ Mourinho, typically, told his opposite number, the dentist’s dream that is Jürgen Klopp, that the best team had been beaten in the top-of-the-table clash at Anfield. Klopp, still grinning, was mystified and made light of it, and thanks to his perpetual bonhomie, the flame of controversy was extinguished.
He’s a big fellow, is Klopp, and he made Mourinho look like a ranting man with “little guy syndrome” as they nudged elbows and fists on the pitch with their players. But did José really think his team was the better side on the field, or was it just sour grapes?
As far as Mourinho was probably concerned, his team had been marvellous and had gone out to win. They clearly carried out his orders, staying deep and adopting the quick breakaway style that has been one of his trademark strategies. From his perspective, Spurs had played it right and but for that heartbreaking last minute header from Robert Firmino, they would have gained a highly satisfactory draw. Liverpool just kept going, stoking the fire, pressing the bruise and waiting for a gap to appear.
From the neutral’s armchair, Liverpool were superior, and at times Spurs were hanging on for dear life as the home team’s share of possession nudged the needle over 90%. Mourinho’s tactical game may have kept him happy, but in pure footballing terms, Spurs were second best, they were merely doing their job very well for a long time.
Some fans at clubs that have been unable to crack the Hotspur nut have called the 2020-21 version of Spurs “anti-football”, but that’s really not the case. Their historic expansive and purist football, still using the 1961 double team as a point of reference, is no longer a successful way – hence they have won very little in the past 25 years, despite producing top talent and attracting big names to dear old White Hart Lane. Spurs are desperate for silverware and Mourinho is drawn to shiny objects more than any nursery rhyme magpie. Spurs have a good chance to win something during his reign, however short it might turn out to be.
Call it pragmatism, that polite way of saying caution, but Mourinho can make Spurs into genuine title contenders. It may not be gung-ho and edge-of-the-seat emotion all the way, but take a look at some of the goals they have scored this season – were they not exciting and a product of thoughtful approach work?
Mourinho teams are effective for most of the clubs he works for, but only if his ethos brings some tangible success. They are not for the uncommitted who wants to be thrilled, but it is a business-like approach to ensure points are chalked on the board. Mourinho’s job rests on results and mostly, fans will support any team that wins, regardless of how they do it.
Spurs will, in all probability, have to beat Liverpool at some stage, but their display at Anfield showed they are not a soft touch and they have the tools to maintain their bid. But playing deep for so long may be effective, but if you fall behind you have to shift tactics and the longer the game goes on, the more difficult it is to retrieve the situation. A little more adventure goes a long way.
Liverpool are a team that thrives on constant power and passion and that has, undoubtedly, won them plenty of games over the past two seasons. Tottenham’s style is very different, a factor that will make the Premier League title race very interesting, especially if Manchester City rediscover their drive. For now, though, Spurs can go marching on into 2021 knowing that talk of ponies is just another mind game from you know who.