Jose Mourinho survived another late scare to maintain his 100% record as Tottenham Hotspur manager against Bournemouth on Saturday.
Once again the Lilywhites raced to a 3-0 lead, through a Dele Alli double and goal of the season contender from Moussa Sissoko, before second-half substitute Harry Wilson grabbed a brace of his own to make Mourinho and co. sweat.
They ultimately held on to register three consecutive wins this season but there’s some work to do if they are to challenge for those coveted Champions League places. As for the visitors, it’s three losses on the bounce now, which no doubt gives Eddie Howe something to think about as the festive fixtures approach.
As the dust settles, here are five things we learned from this encounter.
1. Son-Alli back on the WHL menu
Football is a game of partnerships and there were plenty on display, none more so the connection between Son Heung-min and Dele Alli, who have now played 156 matches together. To be fair, they’ve linked up well this season, for example in Pochettino’s final Champions League game and Mourinho’s debut but those came away from home.
— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) November 30, 2019
Alli’s effort to put Spurs in front, via a sumptuous Son touch, was the first time both were involved in a Spurs goal at home since their 3-1 demolition of Chelsea last November but that, of course, took place at Wembley so you have to go back to April 2017 – a 4-0 win over Watford – for the last Son-Alli combo at White Hart Lane on that day Son would tee up Alli to put Spurs in front.
2. A missile called Toby
On days like this it’s a reminder what Toby Alderweireld brings to Spurs, more than simple defending, and why losing him on a free next summer would be criminal. Of course, you’ve got to look at it from the player’s point of view, given that he turns 31 next March. The Belgian centre-back may feel there’s one more final big payday and the Lilywhites – renowned for having a salary cap – might not offer him said opportunity.
This is speculative, but what’s undeniable is his impeccable passing, no one on the pitch completed more (64) than him but it wasn’t Alderweireld’s short passing that caught the eye instead it was his missile-like balls – which has been a trademark since his formative Ajax days – the first standout pass led to Son’s assist for Alli and another bypassed the middleman for Spurs’ no.20 to double his tally for the afternoon.
3. Close ’em down!
There’s no question that Jose Mourinho has inherited an irresistible challenge. If he can manage to solve this Spurs puzzle then all bets are off. The squad Mauricio Pochettino left behind isn’t a million miles away from challenging for major honours. That being said, there are several weaknesses their new boss must get on top of, one being their laissez faire approach to defending.
Before Saturday’s game Tottenham had allowed no fewer than 76 shots on target on their goal, adding six more against Bournemouth to bring their overall total for the campaign to 82. This puts them just one behind worst offenders Norwich City and West Ham – which means they’re averaging 5.86 per match.
But given Mourinho’s reputation as a pragmatic operator there’s every chance of a turnaround. It might not be pretty, but it’s what Spurs need if next season is to finally see them duke it out for the big one.
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4. Continuing a recent trend
It’s admirable how far Spurs have come in the last decade, from looking from the outside in, they are unquestionably one of English football’s top clubs. A poor start to 2019/20 doesn’t change that. The foundation laid down across Daniel Levy’s tenure as chairman has enabled a raft of high-calibre coaches to join and bring them closer to ending the longest of championship droughts.
Mourinho could very well be, as touched upon, the final piece of the jigsaw and him starting with three consecutive wins is what the doctor ordered. This first home league match in charge ending in victory continues a neat recent trend as none of his five permanent predecessors lost their first such game since Martin Jol suffered a 2-3 loss against Charlton in November 2004.
5. Becoming a free-kick master
“Yeah, the bottom line is you’ve got to be world class,” Alex Inglethorpe, who runs Liverpool’s academy, said in an interview with The Athletic when asked what it takes from those coming through to make the grade at Anfield.
This would have no doubt been picked up by Bournemouth winger Harry Wilson, who’s currently on loan from the European champions, and is fast-becoming renowned as a set-piece master. What better way to answer that challenge. His effort against Spurs, which robbed the north London side of only a second clean sheet of this campaign, was the second time in 2019/20 he has scorde directly from a free-kick (before completing a brace late on). No one in the league has more.
Wilson turns 23 in March meaning time is ticking if he’s to break through under Jurgen Klopp and establish himself in Liverpool’s first team. But the powers that be are not ruling anything out, especially as the affable German coach – who’s already in contact Wilson – is prepared to give those deserving of an opportunity a chance something Inglethorpe notes when outlining the many ways of becoming part of the furniture.
— Premier League (@premierleague) November 30, 2019
“We’re the champions of Europe, so you’ve got to take the place of someone who’s a Champions League winner and has helped the team to the top of the Premier League. It’s a big ask, but there are different ways of doing it,” he added.
“Trent [Alexander-Arnold] has done it in one way, in terms of staying around, having the opportunity, taking it and, bit by bit, demonstrating to the manager that he’s capable of playing. Then you’ve got other players who go about it in a slightly different way. Harry Wilson would be the obvious example.
“Someone who has gone on loan to Crewe, Hull, Derby and now he’s in the Premier League scoring goals for Bournemouth. He’s on the way to maybe being a first-team option. I think he’s realistic enough to know he wouldn’t come back from his loan and take someone’s spot straight away, but he could maybe put pressure on positions 12, 13 and 14 on the bench, and make an impact playing in a percentage of games each year.”