Premier League: Thriving Jose Mourinho and Tottenham aim to inflict more pain on injury-ravaged Liverpool

It has taken ten years for Jose Mourinho to find that sparkle in his eyes again, one at the onset of a new romance. He would resort to all the means necessary to make sure that all the cameras are on him.

Srijandeep Das December 16, 2020 11:30:26 IST
Premier League: Thriving Jose Mourinho and Tottenham aim to inflict more pain on injury-ravaged Liverpool

Jose Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp. AFP

Chaos reigns supreme and quite naturally, Jose Mourinho is thriving.

Collectively, the world is still reeling and doing terribly to cover for it; like that one friend at a party who wants to convince you that he’s okay to drive back home, while being held up vertically by two of your other friends, wilfully, against the forces of physics.

There are 15 days between here and 2021 and the vast majority, sitting in the fatend December haven’t even come to terms with June 25th yet The little time Liverpool fans had to celebrate the end of their 30-year-wait of becoming Premier League Champions, has evaporated like the morning mist under the winter sun. In what seems little more than a few disbelieving blinks of the eye, they now find themselves hosting a title-contending, top-of-the-table Tottenham Hotspur who harbour the illest of intentions.

The narrative is perfectly set for Tottenham to figuratively drive a station wagon in through Liverpool’s ramshackle kitchen window. In no other season since the inception of the Premier League, has Liverpool’s injury crises been this severe. And perennial also-rans Tottenham, who are always good, but never quite good enough, haven’t had a better opportunity to lay the marker. A win for the London team at fortress Anfield would ring eternal in the annals of English football history, doubly resounding, as this multiple record-breaking Liverpool team has been deemed by many as the finest to ever do it.

Jose Mourinho is reprising his role as the Big Bad Wolf with aplomb. His Tottenham, like the good cast, is following the lead of the director. That’s another thing about Mourinho, he’s always the star attraction irrespective of his project. Quite like a director whose films draws crowds to the box offices purely because of the weight of his name; and even if the filmmaking has fallen off a little, the entertainment value of how the plot unravels persists. Because playing the larger-than-life, pulp fiction villain is quite like riding a bike.

Trying his very best to downplay Liverpool’s injury crisis, Mourinho said in the pre-match press conference: “Alexander-Arnold is not injured. Matip … I believe he is going to play. Fabinho is not injured. Robertson is not injured. Henderson is not injured. Wijnaldum is not injured. Salah is not injured. Firmino is not injured. Mané is not injured. Van Dijk is injured and Van Dijk is a very good player. But give me Liverpool’s list of injuries and compare that list of injuries with what is the best Liverpool team and then …”

It’s very convenient for Mourinho to make us believe that football is a game of 11 players, and therefore bask in the exaggerated glory doubly if and when Liverpool is felled. But there is the substitution bench to account for, fresh legs, the lack of, in Liverpool’s case.

The defending champions’ front line has been overworked to the extent that many believe that back-to-back-to-back leading assist-getter Roberto Firmino is broken beyond repair owing to fatigue. The Liverpool attack looks like a flimsy plastic spoon going tentatively at the spongiest of sponge cakes on occasions. And there’s no Diogo Jota (the shaft of sunlight in the long winter of Liverpool’s season, is the newest entrant to the medical bill) off the bench to put Firmino out of his misery.

In midfield, it boggles the mind how Gini Wijnaldum is able to stand for ninety plus added time, nevermind run, straining to put out fires and manoeuvring the ball out of dead ends. It shouldn’t come down to it, but it was 19-year-old Curtis Jones who looked like the only player likely to provide any sort of forward momentum from the midfield in the jaded 1-1 draw away at Fulham on Sunday. Jordan Henderson, returning from injury, still needs to build a head of steam to reach the impressive levels he showed during Liverpool’s title running run last season.

19-year-old Jack Cain was on the bench for Liverpool when they visited Craven Cottage, thronged by Nathaniel Phillips, Neco Williams, and Caoimhin Kelleher. In comparison, Jose Mourinho has the luxury to call on Dele Alli, Lucas Moura, Lo Celso and Joe Hart vs Crystal Palace. Tottenham’s midfield has been energised by the form of French Congolese, Tanguy Ndombélé, while Liverpool's been sagging. On many accounts, this should be a one-sided competition, but Mourinho would know better than to go all guns blazing against a Jurgen Klopp side. His game plan would be to first frustrate and then mug the champions.

It’s poetic that Mourinho has built this Tottenham team on the hoodwinking nature of the counter-attack, and fine-tuned to make it even more conniving. While other teams are busy expending energy on elongated phases of play, Jose Mourinho’s side has always been astutely economical about their energy reserves, and merely responded with perfectly-timed bursts (this disparaging tactic was transformed into high-art with Inter Milan against Barcelona in 2010, when the Italian side went onto win the Champions League). This has been a trademark of the Portuguese manager’s sides, but it seems even more so now as it perfectly plays into Tottenham’s underdog outlook, something that was untenable at clubs like Manchester United and Real Madrid, giant clubs, where that playbook couldn’t apply.

Jurgen Klopp underpinned Tottenham’s counter-attacking potency and Mourinho’s resurgence in the build-up to the game: “Tottenham, when they have the ball they show that they have the quality of the very top teams. They also defend like one and have, at the moment, the best counter attacking movements out there. They only need two or three passes to be on one-on-one with the (opposition) goalkeeper.

“In the end it is all about getting the results and that is the best skill of José because in the decisive moments he is not bothered about style, it is just about the result and that makes him the most successful manager around at the moment.”

And the most irreverent too.

Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool will be without Virgil van Dijk, James Milner, Diogo Jota, Joe Gomez, Xherdan Shaqiri, Thiago Alcantara, Kostas Tsimikas, while Naby Keita and Joel Matip are doubtful to feature. Mourinho doesn’t care. If Jurgen Klopp was at sea, floundering on the touchline, shorn of options, Mourinho would be the kind of manager who, instead of throwing a buoy would cheekily give his opponent a mental high-five.

It has taken ten years for Jose Mourinho to find that sparkle in his eyes again, one at the onset of a new romance. He would resort to all the means necessary to make sure that all the cameras are on him.

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