Spurs 1 Fulham 1. What is this, Groundhog Day?
It was like Neo in the Matrix seeing the black cat twice. As fans of that Warchowski Brothers-now-Sisters classic know, deja vu in the matrix means a glitch in the system, meaning, the Agents are coming for you.
In context, that meant that Fulham were going to repeat what Wolves and Crystal Palace did to Spurs recently, and Spurs were going to sit back and try to counter even though that strategy has not worked since we comprehensively beat Manchester City and Arsenal with that tactic.
I mean, I had hoped I was wrong and Spurs would repeat what they did against Leeds where they continued to press for the second and third goal before sitting back, and that the Leeds victory meant that Jose Mourinho has learned his lesson and not instruct the boys to take an overcautious approach in defending the one-goal lead.
WATCH: Mourinho and Hojbjerg reacts to Spurs' draw with Fulham
Alas, it seems as though the Leeds game was an outlier and the second half saw Spurs revert to Mourinho type by playing the low block and hoisting a long ball out the back in the hope that the punt would somehow find Harry Kane or Son Heung Min.
It’s so frustrating to watch because prior to half-time, Spurs were actually dominating proceedings and looked very likely to score a second. Every fibre of my being wanted them to come out of the tunnel on fire, looking to seize the initiative and finish off Fulham.
With all due respect to Fulham, they’re not the same class as Spurs and should never have been given back the initiative to dominate possession.
I know some Spurs fans out there would argue that the team was simply unlucky, that the tactic almost worked and had Son not hit the upright on the break and scored, Spurs would have secured the three points. That’s the same argument as when Spurs played Palace and Wolves, that we had chances to kill off the game but didn’t take them, and were unlucky.
I’m sorry, fellow Spurs fans, but when three matches almost mirror each other down to the wire, it’s not luck anymore.
What it is, is that Spurs are currently like Neo who just learned kung fu and how to dodge bullets. Which, back in 1999, was like the most amazing thing one saw on the silver screen. Just like how back in the day, Mourinho’s tactical nous was stunning the world over. However, as anyone who watched that scene where Neo was arching backwards to not get shot by the Agent, he was eventually clipped. Neo, as a result, didn’t win that fight but he didn’t lose it either. Sound familiar?
What’s very clear, if you’re still reading, is that I recently binge watched the Matrix trilogy again as it is now on Netflix, and that the first Matrix is still the only good one, but I do recommend readers who never knew what a Nokia banana phone is to watch the series.
As a Spurs fan, the experience would be very similar to watching a Spurs match. A great start, a wobbly middle and a disappointing end.
WATCH: Mourinho says reaching the Carabao Cup final is not enough
The footballing point, however, is that you cannot keep dodging bullets and expect not to be clipped. As Glenn Hoddle pointed out, when Spurs concede all these late goals, it’s not as though the opponents score on their first shot. Barring maybe Newcastle, who literally didn’t have any chances until a controversial penalty, Palace, Wolves, Liverpool, West Ham and now Fulham, all had multiple chances to score, until they eventually did. Yes, one bullet eventually hit.
What every Spurs fan really wants is what Neo eventually became - a godlike being who no longer needed to dodge bullets; basically, the Liverpool of last season. Especially against weaker sides, Spurs should be steamrolling them and be currently four points ahead of Manchester United.
Mourinho, in his post match interview, once again laid the blame at the feet of individuals. It’s not 100 per cent wrong, but it does make him sound as though he bears no blame for the way Spurs have been Spursy in many matches this season. Perhaps it was, as Kane said in his post-match interview, that they panicked and started sitting too deep, but Mourinho must take responsibility for always removing Tanguy Ndombele, who is legitimately the only truly flair player Spurs have on the pitch. That substitution speaks more than Mourinho’s words, as he often choses grit over flair when defending a lead.
An even more disturbing point is that given the attacking talents of Gareth Bale, Dele Alli and Lucas Moura, at a time when Spurs needed more bite up front, Mourinho chose to field Erik Lamela who just recovered from injury. It’s almost half the season gone and one begins to wonder if I was right when I said in my match report early in the season, after the victory against Southampton, that Bale might just end up being the world’s most expensive cheerleader. It’s certainly beginning to look that way, even as the immensely talented Alli starts French classes while preparing for a Mauricio Pochettino reunion.
WATCH: Mourinho says Lucas Moura is giving Carlos Vinicius English lessons
Here’s a very brief highlight of the match, because, honestly, you’ve seen all of it before.
What? No Alli, no Moura, no Alderweireld? It’s a little disappointing to see Mourinho choose to move Moussa Sissko to the right of a 4-2-3-1 formation instead of playing Bale or Moura and signalling an attacking intent.
0-17th min: It’s all Fulham
The relegation strugglers are playing fast and furious and the home team seem to be struggling to keep up with their physicality and movement. That said, Fulham’s not creating much, just a couple of half chances which were well defended.
18th min: Son suddenly appears
Finally Spurs work a neat attack. Aurier is freed down the right and he sends in a precise low cross to find Son, who’s instinctive prod was well saved by Fulham’s goalkeeper Alphonse Areoila. Son has been missing until now, and it’s a stark reminder that when Spurs want to attack, they are dangerous.
23rd min: Son’s brace of misses
A nicely flighted delivery into the box finds Son’s head, but Areola makes another fine save. Spurs are definitely seizing the initiative now.
25th min: GOAL! Kane shows Son how it’s done!
Pierre Emile Hojbjerg sends a great pass down the left to a free Sergio Reguilon and the left back sends an inch perfect cross right into the path of Kane’s diving header. The ball hits the right woodwork and bounces in. A beautifully worked goal and no less than Spurs deserved at this stage.
26th min - half time: Spurs dominate
It’s looking like Fulham are deflated even though they’re still pressing, but Spurs should have done better with two more clear chances - a Kane header from close range that went wide and a “shot” by a free Hojbjerg that reminded me of this crush I had in junior college who was playing football and I praised her for a nice pass back to the keeper and she said, that was a shot. If Spurs keep this up, they win easily.
46th - 70th min: And of course Spurs sit back
Fulham’s players came out like men in Hulk mode and start harassing every Spurs player. They create better chances but Spurs defend well, which they often do until they don’t. Remember, you can’t dodge bullets forever.
71st min: Son almost gives justification to Mourinho apologists
Ndombele takes the ball in midfield and sends Son through on goal from the left. This is where the South Korean thrives and I already jump up in celebration when the ball bounces off the far post and into Areola’s arms. Every Spurs fan in the world knows what’s coming next.
74th min: Yup. Fulham GOAL.
Oh, just watch the video highlight.
75th min to final whistle: Spurs play again, Fulham show what counter-attacking is like
Finally, Spurs come out of their shell and start playing attacking football again, and now it’s Fulham’s turn to counter, and their precise passing shows Spurs what’s lacking in their soak and strike strategy. But for substitute Aboubakar Kamara’s inability to look up and find fellow substitute Ademola Lookman unmarked and alone inside the penalty box in a 2v1 situation late in the game, Fulham would have gone home with three points. And instead of sending on Alli, Bale and Moura to throw the kitchen sink at Fulham, Mourinho thought Lamela and Carlos Vinicius would do the trick.
I said at the start of the article that this was like deja vu and watching the Matrix, but in reality, it’s that classic comedy Groundhog Day, or for the younger readers out there, a bit more like Happy Death Day. If Mourinho doesn’t change his tactics and change it soon, I’ll just rewatch the Palace game, since it’s basically the same match over and over.