Those who wondered whether the resurrection of Jose Mourinho was a trick of the light got their answer at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Those who thought he was dead as a force in the modern game saw the proof that he is on the rise again. When his Spurs team beat Manchester City to go to the top of Premier League, there was one inescapable conclusion: Mourinho is back.
Spurs’ 2-0 victory over a City side led by his old nemesis Pep Guardiola was a Mourinho masterclass. Forget the accusations that Spurs parked the bus. That is too easy. Mourinho sensed City’s weakness and he exploited it. He knew his opponents were vulnerable in defence so he let them have all the possession they wanted and then killed them on the counter-attack. Two shots on target. Two goals. Game over.
Amid all the chaos wrought by Covid-19 and the rash of surreal scorelines, some have been seeking a litmus test for whether Spurs’ title challenge is just another part of the strangeness or whether it is real. This result was the answer to that, too. It is real. City and Liverpool are reeling for different reasons and so far Spurs are the team who look best placed to jump into the vacuum they have left.
Giovani Lo Celso and Son Heung-min scored the goals for Tottenham as they beat Manchester City to go top of the league
Son Heung-min’s scored as Tottenham climbed to the top of the table after his strike helped down Manchester City at home
City thought they had equalised through Aymeric Laporte but the goal was ruled out for handball by Mike Dean for handball
Lo Celso came on as a second-half substitute and a minute later was on the scoresheet after slotting home Harry Kane’s pass
Tottenham (4-2-3-1): Lloris; Aurier, Alderweireld (Rodon 81), Dier, Reguilon; Sissoko, Hojbjerg; Bergwijn (Moura 73), Ndombele (Lo Celso 65), Son; Kane
Subs not used: Bale, Hart, Davies, Vinicius
Booked: Sissoko, Kane
Goals: Son 5, Lo Celso 65
Manchester City (4-3-3): Ederson; Walker, Dias, Laporte, Joao Cancelo; De Bruyne, Rodri, Bernardo Silva (Foden 72); Mahrez (Sterling 72), Gabriel Jesus, Torres
Subs not used: Stones, Gundogan, Aguero, Steffen, Garcia
Booked: Dias, Torres
Referee: Mike Dean
Sure, the season is not yet a quarter of the way through but this result and what has gone before are enough to tell us that Spurs are not going away. In Son Heung-min, who scored their opener here, they have the player of the season so far but it was their defenders who stole the show against City and laid the foundation for Giovani Lo Celso to seal the points with his second half strike 35 seconds after Mourinho had brought him off the bench.
Toby Alderweireld was superb at the back. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg rivalled him as man of the match. So did Moussa Sissoko. Spurs, in essence, played like a team. They played as if they are together. They played as if they knew that if they stayed strong, then City would shatter like glass. And all of it happened as they expected.
The timing of the clash added to its significance. It felt loaded with landmarks and with the managers’ shared histories and a battle for dominance that has raged across leagues and countries for the best part of the last 20 years. Because just when we thought Mourinho was dead as a managerial force, or at least dying, he has come back to life.
Friday marked a year since he took over at Spurs. Back then, he looked like a man who was being devoured by disillusion, poisoned from within. It was hard to imagine a way back even with the knowledge of everything that he had once achieved at Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, even knowing that those achievements guaranteed him a place at the managers’ top table.
But Mourinho has defied those expectations. So far, anyway. Even those of us who view most of what he does through a prism of cynicism and suspicion borne of experience of his modus operandi can see that he has rediscovered his love of the game at Spurs and fashioned a side good enough to take advantage of the unexpected uncertainties that are gripping City and Liverpool.
There is a caveat here, of course. Under Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs finished second in the Premier League in 2016-17 and third in 2017-18. Last year, Pochettino also took them to the Champions League final. So these are hardly uncharted waters that Mourinho is exploring. Pochettino set a high bar and Mourinho still has much to do if he is not to be viewed as a downgrade.
The game was Pep Guardiola’s first since he signed a new two-year contract at the Etihad Stadium earlier this week
But his side were behind from the fifth minute onwards after Son burst clear and placed beyond an advanced Ederson
The South Korean latched on to a stunning pass from Tanguy Ndombele before slotting the ball through Ederson’s legs
Guardiola went into this game on a different trajectory. While Mourinho had fallen from the pinnacle, Guardiola still stood at the summit, or at least near it. He and Jurgen Klopp are commonly viewed as the best coaches in the world now but after another failure in the Champions League and surrendering the title to Liverpool, there were still suggestions his future was in doubt.
He put an end to that speculation by signing a contract extension that will keep him at the club until 2023. It felt like a reset. A statement that Guardiola wants to build another team to conquer the Premier League. A strong hint that Lionel Messi will be coming to join him from Barcelona to play out the autumn of his career. Guardiola and Messi together again was always thought to be the end-game of the City hierarchy.
The softer, happier Mourinho we have seen this season was not quite able to bring himself to abandon his habit of trying to get under Guardiola’s skin before the game when he questioned why Raheem Sterling had been released by England. ‘And of course, we all know Sterling will play,’ Mourinho sneered. Guardiola had a response ready. ‘Maybe Mourinho is a doctor,’ he said.
Honours were even when Sterling was left out of the starting line up but brought on with 20 minutes to go. By then, the row was an afterthought. Mourinho and Guardiola clasped hands and hugged on the touchline before the game. The phoney war was over.
But City dominated possession but struggled to create much in terms of chances, with Rodri heading straight at Hugo Lloris
Then controversy came when Laporte’s equaliser was chalked off after handball against Gabriel Jesus in the build-up
A number of City players remonstrated with the referee once the half-time whistle had gone including Kevin De Bruyne
City dominated early possession but five minutes into the game, Tanguy Ndombele picked up the ball in midfield and drifted a simple ball to the edge of the City box. Somehow, Son Heung-min was allowed to run on to it unchallenged by City defenders. He controlled it with one touch and slid it past Ederson. It was a good goal but it was way, way too easily done. City’s defending was appalling.
Five minutes later, City nearly equalised. Gabriel Jesus danced through the Tottenham defence and made enough space to shoot but he was denied by a superb block from Toby Alderweireld. Kevin de Bruyne’s follow-up was goalbound until it hit Jesus’s prone form. To add insult to injury, Jesus was flagged for offside.
City thought they had drawn level midway through the half when Aymeric Laporte drilled home a sidefooted shot from 10 yards but it was correctly ruled out by VAR and on-field referee Mike Dean when replays showed Jesus had controlled the ball with the help of his arm in the build-up. It was a danger sign for Spurs, though. City had recovered their poise.
Mourinho then sent on Lo Celso for the very impressive Ndombele who looked disappointed to come off the pitch
But less than a minute later the Argentine had made his impact and slotted the ball again through Ederson’s legs to score
Kane was once again instrumental for the hosts, turning brilliantly from midfield and setting up Lo Celso to finish coolly
City had most of the ball. Everyone knew they would. But they did not present the Spurs defence with enough problems. Too many of their forwards seem to have lost their mojo. Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez always wanted one touch too many. Jesus is a fine player but he is not as ruthless as Sergio Aguero. Who is? Sometimes, De Bruyne looks exasperated with what he sees in front of him.
City tried to rid themselves of their ponderousness and De Bruyne curled a shot just wide five minutes after half time. But then City’s familiar failings resurfaced. An attack broke down, Spurs played the ball out of defence to Kane, who was in his own half. He turned and ran at the City defence, which was suddenly hopelessly stretched.
Kane waited and timed his pass to Lo Celso to perfection. Lo Celso took a touch and drilled his shot past Ederson. Spurs had had two shots on target and scored two goals. When Sterling and Phil Foden came on soon afterwards, it was too late.
But it was yet more frustration for De Bruyne, who could not stop the goal nor initiate a response from his City side
The only blemish on the evening for Spurs was a suspected groin injury suffered by Toby Alderweireld in the latter stages