Will Jose Mourinho’s Son-Kane end Tottenham Hotspurs’ long wait?

Son and Kane have combined for 31 Premier League goals - the second most of any pair after Chelsea’s Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard (36).
Tottenham Hotspur’s English striker Harry Kane (L) celebrates scoring his team’s second goal with Tottenham Hotspur’s South Korean striker Son Heung-Min(Getty Images)
Tottenham Hotspur’s English striker Harry Kane (L) celebrates scoring his team’s second goal with Tottenham Hotspur’s South Korean striker Son Heung-Min(Getty Images)
Updated on Dec 09, 2020 09:48 AM IST
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Kolkata | ByDhiman Sarkar

His back to the camera and arms spread like Christ The Redeemer, Jose Mourinho strode towards assistant Joao Sacramento before locking him in an embrace. Son Heung-min had just opened his shoulder and wrapped the inside of his right boot to power Tottenham Hotspur ahead, 13 minutes into the north London derby against Arsenal. That was the first act of the Harry Kane-Son combine. The second, with Kane blasting home Son’s assist as Arsenal’s Thomas Partey hobbled off, came in first-half injury time and put Tottenham Hotspur on way to the top of the Premiership table after 11 games. Arms raised, Mourinho acknowledged the cheers from the 2000 people allowed at White Hart Lane after Sunday’s 2-0 win.

The goals were amazing, said Mourinho. Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta called Son’s strike a “wonder” goal so Mourinho’s comment wasn’t hyperbole from a winning manager. Mourinho also said: “We grew up. I can imagine...three matches in a row against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal, would be a moment for us to drop points and go back to normality. But we didn’t go back to normality.”

Having beaten City, dismantled United, drawn with Chelsea and clinically taken apart Arsenal, Spurs have grown as has the buzz of a first league title in 60 years. And with it, Mourinho has shown that you can write him off --- as many did when United sacked him --- only at your own peril.

Son and Kane have now combined for 31 Premier League goals --- the second most of any pair after Chelsea’s Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard (36). “Sonny and I are feeling good,” said Kane. That has happened because both have bought into how Mourinho wants Spurs to play. It is a way that has Kane, who at 11 has the most goals in this fixture, getting more touches in his own penalty box than in the rivals and saying on camera that he is okay with it. “They are working like animals, with all due respect to animals, I love animals,” Mourinho told Sky Sports while talking about Son and Kane.

With a midfield diamond sometimes, with a low block most of the times and with emphasis on counter-attack at Usain Bolt speed, Mourinho’s way is markedly different from how Mauricio Pochettino almost lifted Spurs to Champions League glory. It’s an approach that gave them bragging rights in north London after years of Arsenal dominating the derby. At one point on Sunday, Arsenal had 91% possession but were trailing 0-1; they ended with 70% of the ball but lost 0-2.

You keep the ball, I’ll keep the points, has always been the Mourinho way of playing and with Kane leading the way, he has got Spurs buying into that. It may not, as Xavi had pointed out while speaking about Mourinho’s Champions League winning Inter Milan, leave a legacy. It may not be as pleasing as Pochettino’s team, but it does have a way of delivering trophies. Spurs wouldn’t mind that.

Crucial also to the Mourinho way at Spurs are central midfielders Moussa Sissoko and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, the latter getting high praise for his derby performance from Arsenal great Tony Adams who compared him to Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira. Mourinho has often got Sissoko and Hojbjerg to play in the space between the full backs and centre-backs. That creates a back six which sometimes does cede space but since Spurs have let in the least number of goals so far, no one’s complaining. And with the wide players, it was Steven Bergwijn and Son on Sunday, available it also keeps Spurs poised to make the transition swift.

Hard running full backs in Serge Aurier and Sergio Reguilon too are playing their part. The gallop from Reguilon, who arrived at Spurs after Mourinho, made Rob Holding take a step towards the left back as Son scored. Aurier too has erased his error-strewn game. His passes set both goal-bound moves against Arsenal and the right back has come a long way from nearly being sold by Pochettino. With his emphasis on team shape, Mourinho helps defenders develop, former Spurs defender Stephen Carr told The Athletic. And, as was shown in the documentary series “All or Nothing”, Aurier and Sissoko have helped Tanguy Ndombele settle in at Spurs.

“We’re doing well in a tough period, but results like this will only help us,” said Kane on Sunday. It should also help build another London aura around Mourinho.

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Sunday, November 28, 2021