Weekend Debrief: Mourinho makes early impact

Spurs on the move under Mourinho

New Spurs manager Jose Mourinho insisted Saturday’s 3-2 win at West Ham “wasn’t about me” and claimed he would “hate” anybody to say he had made an impact in his first game in charge. Out of work for 11 months since his dismissal at Manchester United, the Portuguese coach said, “I made no impact. Nothing. I just helped them a little bit to win this match.”

No one believed that and the new Tottenham boss said as much just minutes later when adding, “I think the team had 60 amazing minutes, total control, total dominance – using the principle we brought to the training sessions”.

First-half goals from Son Heung-min and Lucas Moura and a third from Harry Kane four minutes after the break gave Tottenham their first Premier League away win since 20th January before a late Hammers rally. In the build-up to the game, Mourinho indicated there would be no massive changes but there were subtle amendments to the Spurs side.

Christian Eriksen was banished to the bench. Mourinho has never been one for accepting passengers on his managerial journey and evidently, he is not about to start now with the Dane’s future still uncertain. His introduction 13 minutes from time suggests he’s not been completely excluded but also serves as a warning to fellow contract rebels in the squad.

On the field, Tottenham moulded into a familiar in-possession system used by many leading Premier League lights. Ben Davies acted like an auxiliary centre-half as Spurs transitioned into a 3-2-5 on the ball with Harry Winks and Eric Dier sitting in midfield, allowing Serge Aurier to push on and join Lucas Moura, Son Heung-min and Dele Alli behind Harry Kane.

The overloads in attack caused huge concern for West Ham’s confidence-sapped back four and there was a sense of inevitability about Tottenham’s opener. There will of course be tougher tests to come for Mourinho’s Spurs but with trips to Anfield, the Etihad, the KP and Emirates already all out the way, there’s plenty of reason for the Lilywhites to be positive.

Remarkably, Tottenham’s triumph at the London Stadium was only the third away-day win by Spurs, Man Utd or Arsenal in the Premier League this term (W3-D8-L9). Chelsea and Leicester have seized upon the trios trauma, and whilst Mou’s men are remain nine points adrift of the Blues, suddenly 5/2 quotes on a top four finish begin to look a little charming.

Erik Lamela, Jan Vertonghen and Tanguy Ndombele are all expected to be back in the fold next weekend, giving Mourinho plentiful options for another very winnable encounter at home to Bournemouth. Don’t expect Spurs to stay marooned in mid-table.

Brentford buzzing

Brentford head coach Thomas Frank said he hopes Ollie Watkins can be his side’s Cristiano Ronaldo this season. The winger-turned-striker notched his 11th goal of the season to sink Reading 1-0 at Griffin Park on Saturday. It was the West Londoners’ fifth win in six

Championship outings – a result that lifts the stealthy Bees to within two points of the play-off positions.

Watkins rose highest from a Mathias Jensen cross in the 62nd minute and almost grabbed a second just five minutes later in a match of tight margins. The former Exeter forward produced a Man of the Match display with his hold up play, bravery in the air, constant closing down of Reading’s defenders and decision-making almost always spot on.

Frank said, “He’s (Watkins) a constant threat. His link-up play and his work ethic is crucial. We are so pleased he has stepped up and was the main man, the one who decided the game. He’s definitely a number nine now, because he’s so flexible. Cristiano Ronaldo did quite well in the beginning as a winger. Hopefully Ollie can do something similar.”

Saturday’s victory showcased Brentford’s new-found resilience under Frank. The Bees were forced to grind out the points, stick defensive bodies on the line and remain patient as they plugged and probed at a resilient Reading outfit. The capital club only won the Expected Goals (xG) count by 1.04 to 0.81 but crucially secured top honours in a tight tussle.

That will give Frank enormous pride. The Bees’ former assistant has been keen to implement a sturdier system to make Brentford more robust, particularly away from home where the side fell short last term. The Danish boss demanded size, leadership and a battle-hardened edge in the summer and isn’t quite as obsessed over aesthetics as predecessors.

Even so, the West Londoners have retained their most pleasing parts and the data darlings continue to dominate the majority of their matches with only Leeds bettering the club’s xG ratio figures. Now Brentford are beginning to roll, a promotion push must be the order of the day in their final campaign at Griffin Park after five years of near-misses.

The Bees have already ticked off trips to four of the current top six, and whilst the layers are giving little away for long-term punters, with four encounters against bottom-half opposition between now and mid-December, the upwardly mobile outfit may well be much shorter than their current 20/1 offering for Championship title honours come Christmas.


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