Mourinho enjoys new manager bump with win over West Ham, but Spurs show they're still Spursy
After all, since emphatically beating Manchester United on this very ground - the London Stadium - back in September, the Hammers have gone seven matches in all competitions without a win, losing five, including an embarrassing thrashing by League One side Oxford in the Carabao Cup.
Manuel Pellegrini’s side might actually have been the one team in the English Premier League (EPL) that was suffering a bigger crisis in confidence than Spurs were, so it was a match for Mourinho to make his comeback by breaking Spurs’ 13-match winless away run in the EPL.
And as much as I hated the way the club dismissed Mauricio Pochettino and hired a manager who, despite his 25 trophies, couldn’t get the best out of Kevin De Bruyne and Mo Salah during his time at Chelsea, I have to admit his appointment meant that there was more interest in this match between two lower half sides than Netflix’s first Singapore reality show, Singapore Social, which, by the way, is my newest torture device after the Don Don Donki song and the Shopee jingle.
Even Siao Mate Ivan Lim, who is busy trying to convince fans to make Leicester City their mistress, asked to watch this match with me. Mourinho was getting what he always craved - an audience.
So, of course, Spurs were going to win, the only question was how convincing it was going to be.
And for 60 minutes at the London Stadium, everything was going according to script. West Ham players sat back and invited Spurs to come at them, and the visitors duly accepted by putting three well-crafted goals past them. It was like watching Raheem Sterling picking a fight with Joe Gomez and the latter showed no mercy and laid the smackdown.
Dele Alli looked more alive than he has for two seasons, Son Heung Min continued to show why he was the most important player to Spurs, Lucas Moura finally got a chance to show that the Champions League heroics weren’t a fluke and Harry Kane returned to being Harry Kane.
What was more amazing was that right-back Serge Aurier, who causes 10 Spurs fans to spontaneously combust every time he is selected, actually looked a decent player. Apart from assisting with a fine cross to meet Kane’s head, Aurier defended well and was seen spinning away from his opponents with the grace of a seasoned ballerina. He was unrecognisable from the disaster masterclass that allowed Bayern’s Serge Gnabry to have his way with him in that 2-7 mauling by the German powerhouse in the Champions League at the start of October.
Eric Dier, returned to his preferred defensive midfield role, only gave the ball away unnecessarily three times, a marked improvement from Pochettino’s final match in charge where almost every pass from the England international found a Sheffield United player. He was largely tidy and provided cover for the defence, though it has to be said that the Hammers rarely ventured into Spurs’ final third, and looked like they would have rathered stayed home to watch the latest episode of The Mandalorian on Disney+. Who wouldn’t, though, as (spoiler alert) baby Yoda must be the cutest thing alive since the creation of cat videos on YouTube.
By the 60th minute, the new manager bump effect had truly taken place. Spurs were cruising, and all Mourinho needed to do was to revert to type and park the bus to bring home a convincing first win for his reign.
What he didn’t count on was the return of the Spursiness. First, left-back Ben Davies, who had a decent game containing the Hammers on his flank, seemed to get an ankle injury but decided to play on. Suddenly, Spurs started looking like a plate of mee goreng on David Beckham’s table, and West Ham sub Michail Antonio duly pulled one back in the 73rd minute. Davies decided he couldn’t go on, but his replacement Danny Rose didn’t restore calm to the team, and neither did Christian Eriksen coming on in the 79th minute. Not surprising, considering since Eriksen has been playing with the confidence of a pimpled-face kid trying to pick up girls in a bar full of Victoria Secret supermodels who are now jobless after the lingerie brand cancelled their iconic fashion show.
VAR had to come to the rescue in the 89th minute after Declan Rice seemed to have pulled another back for West Ham. He was a mile offside when he tapped it in from close range but for some reason, the assistant referee’s flag stayed down, and this would surely go into VAR’s portfolio as proof of why it works without any controversy.
West Ham continued pounding, Spurs sat back and couldn’t wait for the final whistle to blow. In the final seconds, the home team made it 3-2 and ensured Spurs stayed below Sheffield United on goal difference.
The final half-hour removed the icing from Mourinho’s cake, and showed the Portuguese just how much he had to do to get the Spursy out of Spurs. Pochettino had done it for some five years, gave Spurs a steely determination that, at their best, would see them be the ones camping in their opponents’ half down to the final minute.
That Spurs is gone. But if Mourinho wants to make this his Spurs and win the fans over, then he would surely need to bring that back so that they can continue laughing at Arsenal fans, preferably as they lift the Champions League or Premier League trophy. Or both.
No, the win at West Ham didn’t convince many fans that he can do that for Spurs, but given a man of his credentials, anything less would be considered a failure in the eyes of Spurs fans around the world, especially the one writing for this website.