2:50 Mourinho issued an apology to Eric Dier for substituting him after 29 minutes
Mourinho has spoken of learning from his mistakes and appears to have come to the realisation that a more humble approach will serve him well. He has been at pains to point out that “this is not about me” but about the players. Even so, he found it difficult to stick to that mantra on a night when his in-game management helped to make the difference.
Just seconds after stressing that it is the players who are the important ones, he added: “It was one of those matches where I had to play, you know? You know some matches you play before the match in the way you prepare the team. You work, you train, you prepare and then the game starts and your action during the game is not very, very important.”
“In other matches, you have to play and I had to play.”
He was right, of course.
Other managers would have waited to make the change. Instead, he was proactive, wasting no time in attempting to find a way back into the game. The reward came just before the interval when Yassine Meriah’s error gifted a goal to Dele Alli and the momentum shifted.
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“It was about what the team needs,” he explained. “I felt that in this moment, one positional midfield player was more than enough. I think I needed at that time a second creative player. A player who could play with Alli in that triangle, an open triangle as I used to like to call it, and not with a closed triangle like we were with Dier and Harry Winks.”
There was nothing unusually clever about the change other than the fact that he was prepared to make it and make it swiftly.
It was obvious but it was bold.
Mauricio Pochettino’s in-game management was sometimes criticised. He was loved by supporters but his decisions were not always understood. With Mourinho, perhaps it will be the opposite. There is little love so far, no chants of his name, but there is at least an understanding of his decisions on the touchline and that will be a welcome change.
“I think the fans also understood that I did it for the team and in the end, the team is the most important thing,” he added. “Christian gave us what we needed at that time.”
Eriksen’s deliveries into the box were a near-constant menace from that point on and it was his free-kick, whipped in from the left, that allowed Harry Kane to nod home his second of the night and put the seal on the victory. By that point, Serge Aurier had come to the fore with a quick throw-in in the build-up to the second goal and a stunning strike for the third.
Aurier’s impact thus far under Mourinho has been a vindication of the new manager’s deployment of him in a more advanced role. The right-back has not been an unqualified success since his arrival from Paris Saint-Germain, with his defensive work sometimes questioned, but he is revelling in being given licence to push forward up the flank.
And yet, while the Ivorian has been transformed, this was an evening when many of the Tottenham players offered a stark reminder of some of the issues that have engulfed this club of late. Once again, Spurs conceded the first goal in front of their own fans. Once again, this appeared to have a crippling effect on the confidence of the players.
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For Mourinho, there were times during that first half when it must have felt like he was intruding on some sort of psychodrama being played out between players and supporters. Passes went astray time and again. Spurs were sloppy. Tentative. The groans went up from a crowd who have seen all too much of this from their team in recent months.
All Mourinho could do was preach calm. He was not around for that seven-goal humiliation against Bayern Munich or the problems that this team has had to endure at home against Aston Villa, Newcastle, Southampton and Watford already this season, but he is the man having to pick up the pieces from that. It necessitated a steady hand at half time.
0:36 Mourinho praises a ballboy for his quick thinking that led to Spurs’ equaliser
“I had to be a soft version of myself. It was a bit of a surprise for me but I felt that the players’ self-esteem, self-confidence, playing at home with not the best results, probably with the Bayern game behind their thoughts, I felt that they were in need of some love at that time and not the critical one. More the one to give them more of an emotional balance.
“After that, we talked about a few tactical details, a few tactical position adjustments but I think it was more about their confidence to face a difficult situation and to go for it.”
He added: “They were not in a moment of great self-esteem where you think, ‘OK, 1-0, no problem, we keep playing’. There was a bit of a bad feeling among the players.
“But the way they reacted to the second half, they came from behind, to go with everything knowing that a draw would give us qualification, because Bayern were winning, we knew that. So the draw wouldn’t have been a drama because we’d qualify.
“But not to accept the draw, to go for more, go for the victory, go in search of not just the qualification, but in search of happiness and self-esteem and confidence, we did that.”
The players might have gone for it but the truth was that Mourinho was more switched on. With the scores level and half an hour left, he swapped Lucas Moura for Moussa Sissoko.
Having conceded twice in each of his first two games, it would be wrong to call this vintage Mourinho. But it’s two wins too. And his impact on this one should add to the conviction that Tottenham can and will improve under his management.
“The next game at home I expect the boys to start without ghosts, to start immediately open and confident to play because the players are very, very good players.”
It is all about them. Almost all about them.
“I think it was my victory 80 in the Champions League,” Mourinho concluded. “So let’s hope for victory 81.”