Tottenham's decision to replace Mauricio Pochettino with Jose Mourinho a year ago led to more questions than answers, but their early showings this season suggests that it could prove to be a very good move.
Pochettino had transformed a club who were previously struggling for direction on the pitch. The 2013/14 season saw Spurs finish sixth and reach the round of 32 stage in the Europa League. By the time he departed, they'd become top-four regulars and came within 90 minutes of Champions League glory.
But despite that progress, the trophy cabinet remained empty. They finished third in what appeared to be a two-horse race between themselves and Leicester in 2015/16 while they did come second but finished seven points adrift of Chelsea the season after.
Mourinho is Mourinho and there will always be doubts about what he can achieve in the future. A serial winner throughout his time in management but a figure whose last success came with Manchester United three years ago, some poor results last season suggested that the wait would go on during his time in North London.
And yet, despite a hectic schedule to start the 2020/21 season, Tottenham keep finding a way to win games. They have had to balance Premier League with Europa League and constant Carabao Cup fixtures in September. Despite that, at the November international break, they are in the quarter-finals of the cup, second in the Premier League and top of their European group.
From a free-scoring start to tighter contests in recent weeks, Tottenham have demonstrated a priceless ability to win matches. They've had their moments along the way, most notably the collapse against West Ham, yet in a Premier League season following a bizarre pattern so far, Spurs have remained consistent throughout with just two defeats from 15 games across all competitions.
But can Tottenham, now 10/1 for the Premier League title, make their early season form last a full campaign and end their 60-year wait for top-flight success? And what has contributed to their strong start?
Gareth Bale was the headline act to Tottenham's summer activity but their recruits elsewhere have more than played their part so far. While Bale has been slowly introduced, eventually taking the right side of an attack that has already seen a wonderful Harry Kane/Son Heung-min partnership, others have hit the ground running and become key parts of the team immediately.
The first signing of the summer has turned out to be the best. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg has played every minute of the Premier League campaign so far and controls things from the base of midfield. He's the figure who keeps this team ticking, supporting the defence while starting the transition into attack.
While all eyes were on Bale and when he'd finally get regular starts, Højbjerg was dictating things from the centre of the pitch. He is third in the Premier League for average passes per game (82.5) while he sits in the top-ten for tackles (three per 90 minutes). The stats back up what we have been seeing.
A constant theme through Amazon's hit 'All or Nothing' series, which followed Spurs through the 2019/20 campaign, was Mourinho's desire for his team to stop being 'a bunch of good guys'. Every team meeting had a mention of them needing to be more aggressive, have more desire, and, ultimately, be a horrible team to play against.
For Mourinho, Højbjerg is the perfect midfielder to tick those boxes; a player who provides real presence and one who is prepared to battle for every ball. For a reported £15million, and if Tottenham's campaign is one that is ultimately successful, Højbjerg could be the signing of the season.
Of course, the former Southampton man wasn't the only arrival and the full-back situation was addressed by the signing of Sergio Reguilón from Real Madrid and Matt Doherty from Wolves. Reguilón, who joined at the same time as Bale, has already established himself as the preferred left-back.
Due to that double signing, and Bale's return dominating social media, Reguilón had the slight misfortune of becoming the man who David Brent points a camera at and says "do one of you as well" but the two assists in four Premier League appearances shows how suited he is to the Tottenham system. Defensively sound with attacking presence, it was a major step in the right direction and a signing that already looks worth the £25million fee.
The statistics support the performances
It is no accident that Spurs are currently in their lofty position in the table: the numbers and statistics back up the performances that we have seen on the pitch. Only Liverpool can boast a better xGF rate while a small handful of sides have a lower xGA.
Mourinho's men sit second for goals scored but the contrasting xGF rates between themselves and Chelsea show just how creative and threatening this Tottenham side has been this season. Spurs have 1.8 goals more on their actual tally than the xG ratings, for Chelsea that difference is a more significant 6.2.
While we have been left impressed by their ability in attack, Tottenham have seen the joint-lowest number of goals conceded so far. Nine against from eight games is lower than this stage last season but the goal difference is drastically improved because of their own scoring exploits.
They are fourth for average shots per game (13.9) while they are only bettered by four teams when it comes to average possession (54.3). Spurs are seeing more of the ball and creating chances; their 13.1 fouls per game also shows how they set up to try and frustrate.
The most goals scored and the fewest conceded from open play in the Premier League belongs to Tottenham. Just two of their nine goals against have come from this situation; set-pieces and penalties have been their undoing but the VAR debate highlights how not every decision was the correct one.
Spurs have seen 16% of their shots come from inside the six-yard box, the highest in the league, while they sit 14th for shots conceded in their own area. Essentially, it's difficult for opponents to get close to the Tottenham goal but they have little issue in doing it themselves.
Has Mourinho still got it? Can Tottenham actually achieve anything under his guidance? The main numbers across the first eight games of the campaign suggest both answers are a strong yes.
The Kane/Son partnership
Every successful team needs a top striker to contribute but Tottenham have gone one better with the partnership of Kane and Son. There is already talk of this becoming the Premier League's deadliest duo on current form.
Son’s header in their recent 1-0 win at Burnley was the ninth time this season and 29th in total that the pair have combined for a Premier League goal. Only Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard (36) at Chelsea have assisted each other for more.
They have already been breaking records. Kane became the first player in Premier League history to provide four assists for the same team-mate in a single match when Son struck on multiple occasions against Southampton. Kane then contributed one of his own in the 5-2 victory.
The duo both scored a brace each as they thrashed Manchester United 6-1 at Old Trafford. Kane’s quick pass through the gap from a free-kick sent Son clear to put Tottenham 2-1 up in the seventh minute and Son returned the compliment before half-time to extend the advantage.
In their next contest, the 3-3 draw with West Ham, Kane assisted Son in the first minute before the favour was returned to make it 2-0 just seven minutes later. The duo haven't combined since the win over Burnley but Kane scored goals against Brighton and West Brom in the league, grabbed a goal and an assist against Ludogorets in the Europa League while Son also got a helper in the same game.
The goals may have slowed down in the league for Tottenham but the duo's fine start to the campaign will only continue, even with Gareth Bale's presence on the opposite flank. There is a very strong chance that they will not only break the Drogba/Lampard record this season, but in doing so they will have helped Spurs pick up some silverware in one of the four competitions they are involved in.
Trophies rather than trophy?
It's important not to get carried away so early into the campaign but Spurs are in a good position to secure at least one trophy - although there is the possibility of more than that sitting in the cabinet come May.
The Premier League is so open that it feels like you could make a case for five or six teams but the League Cup, favoured by Mourinho during his time in England, is set up nicely for Tottenham given their path so far. They are at the quarter-final stage with Sky Bet Championship side Stoke next up.
Tottenham trophy multiples (via Sky Bet)
- Tottenham to win Carabao Cup & Europa League - 18/1
- Tottenham to win Premier League & Carabao Cup - 20/1
- Tottenham to win Premier League & Europa League - 28/1
- Tottenham to win a trophy - 6/5
What is important is that, while Mourinho favours going for that stronger side, they do have the ability and quality to rotate. Both full-backs can be swapped, Joe Rodon provides an option at centre-back, while they have Lucas Moura, Carlos Vinicius and Erik Lamela as forward choices.
Given the number of competitions they are involved in, their new quality following positive additions and the presence of Jose Mourinho in the dugout, it is a surprise to see Tottenham at odds-against to win a trophy this season.
Odds correct at 1145 GMT (17/11/20)
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