Not Happy One: Mourinho getting what he wants and he is right about Lo Celso
Jose Mourinho made his point loud and clear seven days ago in Belgium and his Tottenham players responded.
There was no complacency and no underestimating the opposition this time around.
The reigning champions of Bulgaria were, other than a messy moment from a deflected cross, swept aside and Spurs now sit on top of Group J.
Mourinho wasn’t entirely happy with the performance though.
After the game he posted on his Instagram account, which itself is becoming more amusing with each passing week even if it’s slightly unclear whether it’s intentional or not, a photo of himself on a sofa eating some crisps with the caption “When you win but you don’t play especially well.”
It wasn’t a perfect performance but it was a professional one.
From the first minute Spurs pushed and flew at Ludogorets, working hard and that continued in the second half, particularly with the introduction of the Duracell Bunny also known as Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.
“We started the game with ambition, which was different to what we did in Antwerp. So good attitude to start. We tried to kill the game in the first half,” Mourinho told football.london.
“It was not possible with 2-0 because 2-0 the result is still open, but it was a strong start and performance with two good goals and hitting the post.
“We completely dominated and I don’t remember one single situation for them of danger. That made a difference because in Antwerp we gave an advantage to the opponent and then when they were good they were winning. They closed everything the way they could and we couldn’t react.”
He added: “Tottenham is a better team, with better players, we didn’t need to play very, very well to win the game [tonight].
“We did our job, we played serious, we took it serious, we played with great attacking force, starting with Harry Kane.
“Ludogorets is not a weak team, we are better than them and we showed this. We have to try to do the same when we play them in London.”
Mourinho might not have been ecstatic with the display but he got what he wanted, a committed performance from his players.
The remarkable Harry Kane
Just when you thought you couldn’t praise Harry Kane any more, he goes and reaches another landmark.
Mourinho only required his services for 45 minutes but it was enough for the striker to score his 200th goal for Tottenham in his 300th appearance and he could have had more, having hit the woodwork and skied a close range chance within two minutes.
At 27-years-old Kane is Spurs’ third highest goalscorer of all time and he could feasibly pass Bobby Smith’s tally of 208 in 317 appearances before 2020 is done.
Then his sights will be set on Jimmy Greaves’ total of 266 goals from 379 matches for the club.
Kane also set up Lucas Moura for Tottenham’s second goal, meaning the front man has a remarkable 12 goals and 10 assists in his first 13 games of the season. Kane’s goal was also his 40th in 60 European matches for Spurs.
“The numbers make him a club legend, with what he is achieving in the Premier League and all competitions is great for such a young guy,” Mourinho said about the man who wore the captain’s armband for the first half.
“I believe he can [become Tottenham’s all-time top goalscorer]. It’s just a matter of time.”
Kane is becoming something remarkable, a hungry goalscorer who somehow creates just as much for others.
He likes to destroy what his critics come out with.
‘One season wonder!’ Nah. ‘Won’t do it in the Champions League!’ Oh. ‘Can’t do it on the top international stage!’ World Cup golden boot. ‘With his injuries he’s finished, a compromised version of himself!’ A hail of goals and assist and the best football of his career say otherwise.
Those who claim he’s selfish and it’s all about him on the football pitch are being put in their place as well with a season that shows just how much of a playmaker he is.
“I am delighted with [the 200 goals], delighted with the three points first and foremost,” he said after game.
“I probably could have scored a couple more in that 45 minutes but that is the way it goes. It’s a great milestone to reach, but hopefully a few more to come.
“Time goes so quick, it feels like yesterday scoring that first goal for Spurs. It is a great achievement to reach 200 goals but for sure I hope there is a few more left so let’s keep them coming.”
He admitted that he doesn’t think about landmarks and other records that he can aim for.
“It is not on my mind, you guys will let me know when I get the next one, but it is hard to take in when you are playing,” he said.
“I think once you finish you take it all in. I have got to keep on going, keep winning as a team and we will be alright.”
On the match itself he added: “We had to bounce back, it was not our greatest performance but we got the job done.
“It is never easy coming away from home in Europe as last week showed. We put ourselves in a nice position, after the international break we play these at home and if we win the next couple it should be enough to get through.”
Kane has met someone in Mourinho with his own high demands and the trophies in his CV the England striker craves.
He’s reaching new levels in his football and he will be hoping that it’s finally going to lead somewhere at Tottenham rather than looking enviously elsewhere.
All four of Tottenham’s available wingers got a chance to show what they could do on the night.
Gareth Bale looked much fitter and sharper and full of confidence after his weekend winner against Brighton.
His play was more incisive than in his previous appearances and he was able to track back and defend as well as his fitness grows.
He was involved in the second goal with a clever ball into the path of Kane. He sent one early free-kick towards goal which proved awkward for the keeper and had a headed chance before the first half ended.
It was much better from the Welshman and you could see the disappointment on his face when his 64 minutes were up, rather than the acceptance of previous withdrawals. His game time had been agreed beforehand with Mourinho but he knew he could do more.
After the match at West Brom, which he might just start after this latest showing, it will be down to Wales to not push him too much with the three games ahead.
If he’s used carefully – tough to do when he’s their best player – then he could return in a great condition for Spurs’ run of big matches in November and December.
Lucas Moura finally got back to having an end product to ally with his work rate.
His whipped in corner for Kane was his second assist of the season, his first coming in September in Bulgaria as well, against Lokomotiv Plovdiv.
The Brazilian has been finding most joy in front of goal against Europa League sides, with his strike on Thursday night his third in his six games in the competition so far this season.
It will likely be a battle between him and Bale to see who starts at the Hawthorns on Sunday afternoon.
Son Heung-min’s place is assured and he showed just how devastating he can be with an assist for Giovani Lo Celso with his first touch, 17 seconds after coming off the bench.
That made it 10 goals and five assists for the South Korean star in 12 games.
Bergwijn certainly gave everything and he tried to make things happen. The quality wasn’t there in his finishing but he was a livewire for Tottenham.
With Erik Lamela, expected to be back fit from his Achilles injury when the international break ends, drawing plaudits from Mourinho and his team-mates you can see the fierce competition for places in the attacking midfield slots.
With Lo Celso and Tanguy Ndombele playing through the middle as well you can see the difficulties Dele Alli is having in finding his way back into Mourinho’s plans.
Further up the pitch, Carlos Vinicius struggled to take his chances, sending one big opportunity into orbit from Lo Celso’s pass and his hold-up play was not at the level the team needed.
Ironically, he had played much better the previous week at Antwerp before finding himself hauled off at half-time.
Vinicius is still very early in his Spurs career and has plenty of adapting to do to a new club, league and culture. Goals will help and they will come.
Some Tottenham fans were not too happy with Jose Mourinho’s comments about Giovani Lo Celso after the Argentine’s goalscoring performance, but he wasn’t wrong.
“Good with the ball and not very good without the ball. His physical condition is not good,” said the Spurs boss.
“He didn’t have a preseason. During the lockdown during the previous season he had problems – he didn’t train in that period when other guys were training so he has been up and down in his preparation. So he’s been coming now, step by step.
“I feel that when he plays he’s not the Gio that we know, not the Gio that we know that he can be an amazing player. But with the ball of course great criteria and he knows what he’s doing of course, and understands the way we want to play. But we need more intensity to be fitter, to be more intense and to be stronger in the transitions.
“But of course he played more than an hour, and for that hour of course was a football match that we needed to win but it was also let’s say a training session to improve his match fitness.”
In possession of the ball, Lo Celso was busy and productive. He played in Kane on goal with a clever ball through in the first half.
He set up Vinicius for his big chance early in the second half and then got the goal his creativity deserved on the hour mark with a tap in from Son’s square ball.
However, out of possession he did at times struggle to keep up with play and his normal combative playmaker style was lacking slightly in the aggression he can bring and that’s a fitness issue.
The Argentine has missed three pre-seasons in a row, if you include the bonus one before the restart last season, and he needs to get himself that base layer of fitness rather than constantly trying to attain it.
At least he no longer needs to convince Mourinho of his abilities. He’s already won that battle with his quality last season.
Now he needs fitness – his international commitments might actually help him – to get back into the Portuguese’s first choice starting XI, in which Tanguy Ndombele has currently replaced him thanks to his own work on his fitness and convincing Mourinho of his desire.
It’s been Mourinho’s way from the start. Happy to praise but always with the very clear caveat that the player can do more and it’s the case for everyone.
It’s a demanding style that doesn’t work with everyone but when it does it brings silverware.
The demands of Jose Mourinho
Those Mourinho demands and ruthlessness might turn off some Spurs fans but it comes from a mentality that’s very different to the north London club’s.
Like or loathe his methods when it comes to hard facts Mourinho has won more major trophies in the past 20 years than Spurs have as a club in their existence.
His explanation of exactly what the club’s fringe players and those who disappointed him last week in Belgium must do summed up his mentality.
“We are speaking about top players, we are speaking about Tottenham players, I always expect from them the maximum, so I am quite demanding and I am never happy with little,” he said.
“There are a few things in this game that I expect much more from us, but I am happy with the initiative and the responsibility after we scored the first goal and I am happy we won the game quite comfortably.
“There are players that clearly by the way they perform they give no chance to other players in that position because they are so, so, so strong in their performances.
“People who are not playing regularly must feel that every minute they are on the pitch is a minute to prove, is a minute to enjoy, is to give the maximum.”
It’s up to the players to take Mourinho’s words as they see fit. They could be precious and take any criticism badly or they could give the Portuguese everything.
Mauricio Pochettino’s way was creating a family, Mourinho’s is more like recruiting an army.
Those who have a stomach for the fight will flourish under him and those who don’t simply won’t.
It’s more of an old school drill sergeant mentality but what will help him at Tottenham is that the players have been starved of silverware.
Many of them loved the Pochettino way but ultimately it came up short of the trophies they felt their efforts deserved and they were beginning to realise that in his final season.
Now Mourinho offers a very different deal, one with harder edges but, so far in his career, guaranteed rewards.
At other clubs with bigger egos and players who have already won everything the game offers, the Portuguese’s methods can rub stars and their egos the wrong way.
The less medal-laden players at Tottenham, even those who might initially resist, can only try it to see where it leads.
Even a midfield maverick like Tanguy Ndombele has now bought into it and is reaping the benefits all while Mourinho continues to push for more.
How others react will determine their fates.
Dele Alli, for example, has talent aplenty and he’s had some wonderful moments but ultimately he’s won nothing in his career yet to show for it.
How he reacts over the months ahead could end up defining the remainder of his career.
He’s currently fighting to get back into that bracket of very good English Premier League midfielders like Jack Grealish, Ross Barkley and James Maddison, whereas his previous trajectory had been taking him above them and into the world class arena.
Alli is still only 24 and time is on his side. Mourinho arrived at Tottenham as a big fan of the young midfielder but his dismay at the player’s training levels were clear in the Amazon documentary series.
Mourinho is looking to bring the big club mentality from his experience to Spurs and with his big squad, brimming with options, there’s no longer any room for complacency from any player.
Kane is the ultimate inspiration as someone who trains like he plays, at 100 per cent and with the desire to constantly improve and it’s something he demands from others.
With Spurs’ clever transfer dealings in recent months, they’ve added similar characters in Hojbjerg, Bale, Hart, Doherty and Reguilon, with Vinicius and Rodon to prove what they can do in a new level of football.
In a big club mentality with a squad packed full of quality there’s no room for passengers, sulkers or those who don’t want to give everything on the training pitch as well as inside the stadium.
That’s not to say that Dele is any of those things right now but he can’t afford to be left behind while Mourinho looks to elevate the club to new heights through new practices.
Tottenham will rise to the summit of the Premier League table, albeit perhaps briefly depending on later results. if they win at West Brom on Sunday in the early kick-off.
In the mean time, Mourinho’s statements continue to be about acting like a big club in every way on and off the pitch and in the expectations placed upon each other, not only from the players but also the staff, all the way up to chairman Daniel Levy as evidenced by the most recent transfer window.
Acting like a big club was something Pochettino wanted and publicly called for but never quite wielded the power to attain. Mourinho will not accept anything less.