Mourinho honeymoon over
Jose Mourinho often managed to prompt this kind of insipid, error-strewn performance from Tottenham during his spells at Chelsea and Manchester United – but Spurs were not supposed to play like this with the Portuguese in their dugout.
Mourinho’s honeymoon period came to an abrupt halt with a 2-1 defeat to United on his much-anticipated return to Old Trafford.
The hosts deserve credit for the way they played, particularly exception match-winner Marcus Rashford who scored twice, and their performance potentially said as much about their feelings towards Mourinho as their current manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
But it was hard not to feel like Spurs and their coach were the architects of their own downfall, as Mourinho’s team selection backfired (more on that below) and far too many of his players had nights to forget.
One of Spurs’ principal failings under Mauricio Pochettino was their inability to perform in big away games but Mourinho – a proven winner, of course – was not supposed to suffer from the same stage-fright.
That proved the case at the Theatre of Dreams, as Spurs were firmly outclassed by a United side languishing 10th in the table before kick-off and very much there for the taking.
Ultimately, their performance – against the first decent side Spurs have faced under Mourinho – felt very much like the deathroes of Pochettino’s reign all over again, with the likes of Serge Aurier and Lucas Moura, who have looked rejuvenated, reverting to their prior inconsistency.
It is still early days for the Spurs manager of course but this significant and painful set-back underlines the scale of his task ahead.
Dele Alli shines in dismal Spurs showing
The biggest bright spot on a difficult night for Spurs was Dele Alli’s sublime equaliser – his fourth goal in as many matches under Mourinho.
David de Gea’s save from Aurier sent the ball high into the air and, with his back to goal, Alli’s killer first touch flicked it over his own head and Fred, before he finished past De Gea with his second.
There was shades of his remarkable goal against Crystal Palace in January 2016 and underlined that Alli is truly back to his sparkling best.
Mourinho has actually done relatively little with Alli, except play him in his favoured No.10 position and give him the freedom to express himself.
The result was spectacular and the 23-year-old’s confidence bodes well for Spurs and England going forward.
‘Winkoko’ midfield fails again
Spurs were uniformly poor but nowhere was this more pronounced than in midfield, where Mourinho paired Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko. Both have qualities as individuals but, as a duo, ‘Winkoko’ was rarely ever effective under Mauricio Pochettino and showed nothing here to suggest that is about to change under Mourinho.
Spurs, predictably, struggled to move the ball forward and lacked defensive cover, particularly with Sissoko spending half his time protecting Aurier against the threat of United’s pacey wide men, which ultimately led to Rashford’s second goal from the penalty spot after he was fouled by the Frenchman.
While Mourinho’s decision to drop Eric Dier was understandably, it was strange that he left £120m of midfield talent on the bench in summer signings Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso – not to mention Christian Eriksen, who were all introduced in the second half after Rashford had restored United’s lead. By then, it was already too late.
Work to do on Spurs defence
If Spurs’ midfield was poor, their defence was hardly much better and it was another performance which illustrated the work ahead for Mourinho. Spurs have now shipped two goals in all four matches under the Portuguese and, alarmingly, their bad habits under Pochettino have continued.
They conceded another early goal, Rashford’s near-post screamer, and then a second again seconds after half-time, rending Mourinho’s team talks largely worthless.
Rashford’s sixth minute opener was a catalogue of errors, as Toby Alderweireld found himself dragged too deep, Davinson Sanchez was poor in the tackle, no-one from midfield helped out and Paulo Gazzaniga was beaten at his near post.
Aurier, meanwhile, was positionally poor and erratic in the final third, even if saw a lot of the ball and set-up Alli’s goal. It is very early yet – just 13 days and limited time on the training ground for the new coaching team – but Mourinho must already be wondering if he has the personnel to fix Spurs’ leaky defence