Football Features

Mourinho’s pursuit of ‘unique number three’ can only boost Spurs’ Champions League hopes

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 15:54, 25 November 2019

José Mourinho got off to a winning start with Spurs in the Premier League, and will now look to do the same in the Champions League.

The Portuguese coach oversaw a 2-3 victory against West Ham at the London Stadium and is now looking forward to a match against Olympiacos at his new stomping ground. His first home game in charge will see him make his bow in Europe’s premier competition with last season’s beaten finalists and he will be determined to go one better this season.

That’s a lofty ambition, for sure, but Mourinho has made his career on defying expectations in Europe. He won a minor treble with Porto in his first season there and then backed that up with a European Double the very next campaign. At Chelsea he turned the Blues from also-rans into one of the continent’s genuine heavyweights, then with Inter he won a quite incredible Treble, beating one of the best sides of all-time along the way.

And whilst he wasn’t the man to lift Real Madrid back to the very top of European football, it was Mourinho who restored pride to the Bernabeu and snapped the long “round of 16 curse” and, as with Chelsea, both formed the side and created the sensation around Europe that his was a side to be taken very seriously.

Mourinho Moura Spurs

Since 2013 he’s been kind of coasting, not achieving anything too great but, bar a couple of games against Sevilla in 2018 where he lost the plot, he’s generally keeping things on a fairly impressive level. This is a competition that Mourinho enjoys, particularly so when the odds are stacked against him. The chance to become the first manager in history to record European Cup triumphs with three different clubs from three different countries will represent a significant motivation for the 56-year-old.

Which is just as well because Spurs have definitely got it all stacked against them this season. They’re currently second in their group but owe that largely to the fortune of having had their double header against Red Star Belgrade, the group’s worst side. This has given them a degree of momentum after a disappointing draw in Athens was followed up with a home obliteration at the hands of Bayern Munich.

However, that momentum must now be built on. Qualification looks likely (barring a disaster against Olympiacos) but that’s not enough for the Spurs fans. After all, they made it to the Champions League final last season; they’ve had a taste of the big time and will not want to give that up. In fact they’ll want more, and Mourinho just might be the perfect man to give it to them.

Now, Spurs rode a massive wave of luck to reach last season’s final. They headed into their final group match needing PSV to pick up a point at Inter and requiring at least a point from the Camp Nou themselves, which only two clubs had managed to do since 2013. But PSV held Inter and, with Barcelona putting out a reserve side, Spurs got their point too.

Spurs then beat Borussia Dortmund with an incredible rearguard effort, and snuck their way by Manchester City off the back of a 20-minute spell at the Etihad; oh, and a massive helping hand from VAR which incorrectly allowed one of their goals and ruled out what looked like a stoppage time winner for City.

Then in the semi-finals it took a miracle hat-trick from Lucas Moura away to Ajax to overcome the rampant Dutch side who were much better and should have won with ease.

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Spurs will not get a run that fortunate again, both in terms of favourable opponents (Ajax were good but lacked the star power to overwhelm Spurs and Manchester City are a side whose feathers Spurs have always been able to ruffle) and the manner in which their opponents just collapsed in front of them. But now that their coach is Mourinho that’s probably for the better.

Mourinho is a defensive coach. He can boast about the attacking stats of his teams, but when the chips are down the Portuguese coach will always go defence first. That’s fine, but it does mean his sides tend to excel in specific kinds of matches.

For example, in last season’s group stages his Man United side laboured their way to a last-minute home win against Young Boys and were held and defeated by Valencia, all of which represented disappointing performances. But when they faced one of the favourites in Juventus, they went to their stadium, rode their luck and picked up a 1-2 win.

Sure they lost 0-1 at home, but they played well and the result would have seen them qualify on away goals had it been a knockout tie. And even though he had been sacked by then, that historic victory against PSG was very much done in the Mourinho mould (with the exception that several young players were used).

Jose Mourinho

Looking back to 2017/18, Mourinho’s Man United faced no elite sides and were consistently average before the aforementioned ‘disasterclass’ against Sevilla. And glancing even further back to Mourinho’s last trip to the semi-finals in 2013/14, he lost there to Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid; the Benny Blanco to his Carlito Brigante.

It wasn’t an elite side that did the damage. In fact, Mourinho hasn’t been defeated by an elite side in Europe since the 2013 Champions League semi-final when Jurgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund rock-and-rolled their way all over Mourinho’s Real Madrid thanks to Robert Lewandowski’s four-goal haul in Germany. His European failures since then have come because he has been unable to adapt his sides to dominate with the ball. But he won’t have to do that at Spurs.

Jose Mourinho oversees Spurs training

Sure, eventually he will be asked to advance Spurs and make them fun to watch (and that will likely be when everything goes wrong). But right now his remit is simply to get them into the top four and go as far as he can in Europe.

This will be music to his ears as it allows him to play the game his way. You can bet that when his Spurs do rock up to the Allianz Arena on matchday six they will do so fully believing that they can get a positive result. Then if they qualify and draw a heavyweight in the knockout rounds, Mourinho will be confident of seeing Spurs get through, and so on again in the quarters, and again and again. The bigger they are, the more the Portuguese will relish the prospect of helping Spurs make them fall.

And given Mourinho’s history of upsetting the odds in Europe, would you bet against them?