Spurs reveal title IDs because the Mourinho-Guardiola rivalry lastly ignites in England
Tottenham's 2-0 win over Manchester City on Saturday suggests that the Premier League may after all witness a real rivalry between Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola.
When Mourinho returned to England to lead Manchester United in 2016, the script was written for the Portuguese to renew hostilities with perhaps his bitterest rival, Arsene Wenger aside, when Guardiola arrived across town in City that summer.
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Although Mourinho described second place after Guardiola as "one of his greatest achievements in the game" in the 2017-18 season, that was more of a comment referring to the weaknesses in the United squad rather than the outcome of a highly competitive competition. After all, City won the title by 19 points that year and retained the trophy a year later when Liverpool emerged as the city's strongest challenger while United faded, sacked Mourinho and appointed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Mourinho was later declared a "busted flush" that was overtaken by more stylish progressives like Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp. And so, in a week that Guardiola signed a contract extension to stay in City through 2023, Mourinho will enjoy the timing of Spurs climbing to the top of the table with a win that represents a win for the essence of his dogmatic, disciplined style about Guardiola's zeitgeist.
After accepting the Spurs job, Mourinho argued that he switched managers and used an 11-month hiatus from management as a period of introspection to change his perspective. There are signs that he has in some ways waned, certainly when you look at his Instagram account at face value, and gamers often speak of a more approachable man than his reputation suggests.
But in the big games that matter most, Mourinho returns to typing: defensive, disciplined, combative and with the aim of being clinical when counterattacked. Spurs may not change Mourinho, but he does change Spurs.
The surprise is not an indication that Mourinho's methods have changed radically. The fact is that his so-called old school tactics could last long enough to fight for the Premier League title.
The sterilized environment required for football to survive amid the coronavirus pandemic is likely to help every team position themselves that way. For example, imagine the rage of Newcastle fans when 55,000 of them are packed into St. James' Park and watch as they barely try to attack on Saturday.
And here, at 0-0 and even 1-0, while the fans would undoubtedly have embraced the spirit and dedication of Spurs, the atmosphere at the sight of the house would inevitably have been a mixture of concern and frustration as the team camped for a long time on the edge of his own box. As it was, the only sound that reverberated in this wondrous arena was two groups of players, staff, and henchmen denying every decision that Referee Mike Dean had made, from one extreme apoplexy to a surge from there .
Jose Mourinho and Tottenham were the surprise package in England and seem to be real title contenders. Photo by Neil Hall – from Pool / Getty Images
Mourinho was loudest when Spurs lost the ball, especially in the city half, yelling at his players to regroup and close the room for Kevin De Bruyne to conjure up a chance.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg was excellent in this regard and embodied the positional intelligence and tenacity required to keep the city in check.
Son Heung-min was cleverly used on the right, as opposed to his usual station on the left, to avoid a race with Kyle Walker. That tactical tweak led to the first goal when City switched off and Tanguy Ndombele slipped through a pass for Son, who saw Ederson tumble off his line before shooting a shot through the City goalkeeper's legs.
Both teams had a goal that was rightly denied – Harry Kane for offside and Aymeric Laporte for a handball from Gabriel Jesus under construction – but City created little value after half time, Ruben Dias forced Hugo Lloris to take a break with a header from a free kick by De Bruyne.
This was an accomplishment that raises questions about the depth of rebuilding Guardiola has on his hands to restore her domestic supremacy and win the Champions League crown he has longed for.
Kane was everything Jesus wasn't. He fought tirelessly to hold the ball, providing more examples of his eye for a pass and slipping into Giovani Lo Celso to double Tottenham's lead in the 65th minute. Lo Celso had been introduced to replace Ndombele only moments earlier. This was a day when everything Mourinho tried came about. The only downside for Tottenham was a muscle injury to Toby Alderweireld, who limped nine minutes from time. Mourinho later admitted that early signs were not promising.
Of course, this isn't the first time Mourinhos have defeated Spurs City. They took a win in February with the same result but ended last season in sixth place with City, a shadow of their former selves, still 22 points better off. This time it wasn't a deviation, but a continuation of a good start. The club mixed tireless defense with a clinical finish to bring them to the top of the table and eight points ahead of City despite playing one more game.
It will be fascinating to see how far it can take you. The city is sure to flex its financial muscles in January after Guardiola signs up to the club. Liverpool remain the team to beat while Chelsea are also aiming high at £ 220m this summer.
While Spurs and Mourinho have been told their best days may be behind them, they now seem right back in the title mix