Tottenham Hotspur: Has José Mourinho made Spurs genuine title contenders?

José Mourinho and Tottenham Hotspur

Spurs were knocked off top spot in the Premier League on Wednesday, following their last-minute defeat to reigning champions Liverpool. But do they really have what it takes to be considered genuine contenders?

The Premier League is a marathon not a sprint, but with 12 games played, Spurs have inserted themselves firmly into this season’s title race.

They may be a ‘donkey among horses’ but with just two losses since the opening day of the season and five clean sheets, the soft ‘Spursy’ tag is slowly being dispelled. Tottenham are more reliable, well drilled, clinical in their transitions, and appear genuinely committed to Mourinho’s dogma.

Spurs’ unbeaten run stretched to 11 in the Premier League prior to their mega clash at Anfield. Defensive resilience almost prevailed that night, but Spurs eventually caved in the closing stages, conceding late for the second consecutive match.

Mourinho’s men have remained consistent in learning from their mistakes this season, however, Wednesday’s defeat will more than likely leave a scar, as it hands the initiative back to Liverpool when Spurs could well have taken all three points.

The match highlighted Spurs’ reliance on the prolific duo of Harry Kane and Heung-Min Son, and conversely, the lack of quality elsewhere in front of goal. Steven Bergwijn criminally missed two chances to seal it for Spurs, and since the departure of Christian Eriksen and ostracism of Dele Alli, there’s a clear shortage of goals coming from midfield.

This is a vital position Spurs should look to address in the January transfer market if they’re serious about their title-chasing credentials. Of course, a perfect fit would have been Aston Villa’s talisman Jack Grealish, but Spurs have instead been left to rue missing out on their one-time target, failing to secure his services for just £25m two seasons ago.

Regardless, November saw Tottenham thrive, as they saw off Manchester City, Chelsea, and Arsenal to take seven from a possible nine points in fixtures they’ve historically struggled in. They’ve shown real progress in fighting on all fronts, too, progressing to the next round of the Europa League and Carabao Cup respectively.

Huge Individual Improvements

Heung-Min So goal vs Liverpool

From strengthening and deepening their squad in the summer, Spurs now look to be ready to mount their first credible title challenge since 2017.

Captain Hugo Lloris has recovered his world class form after an edgy 2019-20 season, Serge Aurier has improved tenfold since competition arrived in the form of Matt Doherty, and Eric Dier has formed one half of a very solid defensive partnership.

Heung-Min Son has also elevated his game to another level, and Harry Kane has remodelled himself: dropping deep, adding more assists to his game, and now stands as one of the deadliest, most well-rounded strikers in Europe.

Moreover, Spurs have become a solid unit at the back, with Eric Dier and Toby Alderweireld boasting the tightest defensive record in the league. Shielded by Pierre-Emile Højbjerg’s additional protection, Spurs are slowly solidifying their spine and have become one of the toughest teams in the league to break down.

The José Mourinho Effect

José Mourinho and Harry Kane

Mourinho knows how to win games and what’s required to win trophies. Spurs are accustomed to glorious, free-flowing attacking football, and still possess the tools to utilise that strength when required. As aesthetically pleasing as that style may be, though, it’s achieved a grand total of nothing for the club over recent years.

Since Mourinho implemented his style of football, Spurs have adapted their blueprint, grinding out results in a more defensive manner and, consequently, have evolved and improved their mentality.

Mourinho is often derided for his defensive approach, and while it may not always be pretty to watch, if his system can secure Tottenham their first piece of silverware in umpteen years, it’s a sacrifice Daniel Levy and the club as a whole will make.

If one thing was to scupper their chances of silverware this campaign, it’s their inconsistency and failure to remain composed at crucial stages when seeing out games. If they can eradicate that, there’s no reason they can’t sustain a title challenge as the season wears on.

Next up is Leicester, who pose a difficult test for Mourinho’s side. The contest presents itself as a stern mentality test: can Spurs take an immediate opportunity to bounce back from disappointment and shed their ‘bottle job’ stereotype? Or will they roll over and suffer back-to-back defeats?

So far, Spurs have made all the right noises in their hunt for a trophy, and matched Liverpool stride for stride on Wednesday. If they can regain their purple patch, maintain a defensive stronghold, and remain consistent throughout the busy festive schedule, there’s every chance Spurs will become far more than a ‘small-time donkey’ in this season’s title race.

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