Football Features

“This was a warrior’s display” – five things learned from West Ham 2-3 Spurs as Mourinho starts with a win

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 14:54, 23 November 2019

In an eventful afternoon of football, Spurs beat West Ham 2-3 at The London Stadium.

This was Spurs’ first Premier League away win in 10 months and marked a winning start for José Mourinho in his new club. What did we learn?

1. Playing Like Dele

The story goes that the first thing José Mourinho said to Dele Alli after becoming Spurs boss was “are you Dele or Dele’s brother?” and when Dele said he was himself, Mourinho said “ok, so play like Dele.” Now whilst that seems like advice so basic you’d expect it from a five-year-old, it definitely seemed to have an effect on the Englishman.

Dele was delightful against West Ham. He was a pressing fanatic, refusing to let the Hammers advance the ball through the middle of the pitch, making a team-high 4 tackles. But it was with the ball where he really shone, moving into key spaces and moving it around with an almost surreal vision.

The opening goal of the José Mourinho era was scored by Heung-min Son but it came because Dele Alli darted back into space and played a sublime pass through for the Korean. And with the second goal Dele had the ball out by the touch-line but had fallen onto the floor. However despite being prone he backheeled the ball, not only keeping it in play but releasing Son again and allowing the Korean to square for Lucas.

It was a magical bit of improvisation that showed Dele Alli playing like his true self. If this continues then Mourinho could unleash a truly special talent to reach his top level once again.

Mourinho praises Alli’s performance

2. Kane is Mourinho’s dream striker

Harry Kane had quite an eventful afternoon at The London Stadium. The England captain started the match, looked kind of all over the place in the first-half (he was bypassed for the first two Spurs goals, both of which were nice moves) but he worked his socks off all afternoon.

In the second period he really upped the ante. Firstly he scored a header to make it 0-3, then he began working so hard defensively that he was often playing alongside his midfielders and even sometimes tracking into full-back spaces. Then he blocked a free-kick with his face and began committing cynical fouls. This was a warrior’s display, the kind of display that Mourinho has always wanted his striker to put in. And in Harry Kane he has a player who will give him everything he could want from a striker.

3. Inspirational Antonio vs. woeful West Ham

This is perhaps not a surprise given their recent form but when you consider the players out on the field it is quite mystifying how West Ham are this terrible. Seriously, Manuel Pellegrini’s men didn’t really look like a team in the first-half. Then Michail Antonio came on.

Antonio was a half-time sub for Felipe Anderson and instantly he injected some drive into West Ham. It wasn’t like he turned the Irons into 2011 Barcelona or anything, but he was so ridiculously good that his team-mates almost couldn’t help but up their game. Antonio was outmuscling centre-backs, outskilling full-backs, and just generally being a menace.

He scored West Ham’s first goal with a delightful bit of movement and smart finish, then won the corner that led to their second after some unreal dribbling. Despite all the talent in the team it’s the former journeyman signed for £7m that looks best-placed to be West Ham’s talisman.

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4. Aurier alright at the back?

Could it be? Could Serge Aurier actually play well under José Mourinho? The Ivorian is notoriously volatile so seemed a bad fit with the Portuguese but his performance against West Ham was genuinely impressive; in both a defensive and attacking sense.

Aurier finished the match with a team-high 4 clearances, made 2 interceptions and won possession back a team-high 13 times. He was up and down the touchline, and created Harry Kane’s goal with a lovely cross. Spurs have really struggled at right-back since Kyle Walker’s exit (besides one good season from Kieran Trippier) but if Aurier keeps this up he could be the answer.

5. A steady start for Mourinho

José Mourinho has debased himself at the end of his two previous Premier League jobs at Chelsea and Manchester United. To see how bleakly things ended there, it was hard to imagine him ever being able to command the respect of a Premier League dressing room again; at least certainly not a dressing room as star-studded as Spurs.

But Spurs’ performance against West Ham was thoroughly Mourinho, and in a good way. Now it’s not like Spurs were good, not really. There were a couple of fine individual displays but for the most part they were only better than West Ham because they have better players than West Ham. Structurally they were kind of bland, but they worked intensely from start to finish. Everyone put in the effort in every phase of the game, throwing blocks and getting tackles in. The base improvement in effort is the least Mourinho could have asked for and he got it.

There’s much more to come for José Mourinho’s Spurs, but this was a good start.