Jose Mourinho got a real taste of the size of the job he faces at Tottenham, and fans a taste of their new manager’s incredible influence, as his side came from 2-0 down to beat Olympiacos 4-2 in north London and reach the last 16 of the Champions League.
There have been a lot of headlines since Mourinho was appointed as a replacement for Mauricio Pochettino in north London that he is a man who ‘guarantees trophies’, and in many ways, this game showed exactly why.
Tottenham’s nervous, inconsistent passing in a woeful first half reminded everyone that Pochettino had not been sacked on a whim as they slumped to a 2-0 deficit. But Mourinho’s positive substitutions and half-time talk galvanised a spectacular comeback, inspired by a revitalised Dele Alli, which keeps their Champions League dream alive, having reached the final last time around.
Goals from Alli, Kane (2), and Serge Aurier made it a positive night in the end, but it will not escape the Special One’s attention that the result also means Tottenham have now conceded 35 goals in all competitions this season, including of course the that infamous 7-2 home defeat against Bayern Munich, who comfortably top Group B with Spurs settled in second. His side even shipped two in Saturday’s 3-2 victory at West Ham, which was hailed as a dynamic debut, but should have been a walk in the park after they sailed into a three-goal lead.
Even so, there are already signs that Mourinho is making a difference. Alli, given a standing ovation when substituted, looks back to his best and you would expect the defence to improve over the coming weeks once the manager gets a hold of them.
This was Mourinho’s first home game as Tottenham manager and you have to say it still felt weird — seeing the man so associated with Chelsea standing on north London soil and with fans in the stands wrapped in bizarre scarves which featured a picture of the Portuguese boss and the words ‘the kosher one’.
Who knows what bright spark came up with that, but it wasn’t the only thing which didn’t feel quite right in the early stages.
The first-half performance was just about as bad as you could possibly imagine, comfortably Tottenham’s poorest display of the season alongside Brighton away where they were embarrassed 3-0.
Olympiacos, who went into the game with only one point in the group stage so far, started with a pace and belief that was sorely missing in the home side, who gave the ball away on countless occasions.
There was an early warning when a ferocious shot from Giorgos Masouras forced Paulo Gazzaniga into a fine save — and then, after six minutes, a low left-foot shot from Youssef El Arabi flew into the net from the edge of the area, leaving home fans in disbelief.
Things got worse when, from a 19th-minute corner, Ruben Semedo ghosted between three sleepy Spurs defenders to score from close range — with Mourinho throwing his arms into the air in despair.
The Special One is not a man to wait before making a big decision, and he was as brutal as ever when taking off Eric Dier after only 29 minutes and replacing him with Christian Eriksen in a bid to change the game.
There was no real evidence that the tactic had worked until Olympiacos presented Tottenham with a gift of a goal just before the break — defender Meriah making a total hash of a harmless ball into the box, allowing Dele Alli to tap in from close range.
That gave Mourinho something to bite on at half time and it will come as no surprise to anyone who has followed his career that Spurs came out with far greater energy in the second half, quickly equalising when Lucas Moura crossed for Kane to make it 2-2 after 50 minutes.
The goal came as a relief to Tottenham fans, and perhaps the idea that Mourinho could deliver the Champions League in his first season here — “I love the competition as much as everyone in football; not everyone has the privilege of being a Champions League winner,’ he said in his programme notes — is not entirely out of the question.
Tottenham completed their comeback when Aurier drilled home a strong finish at the far post, following fine skill and a clever cross from Alli in the 73rd minute — and it was soon 4-2 when Kane glanced home a header from an Eriksen free kick.
It means Tottenham’s European dream remains intact and Mourinho is still in contention to become the first manager ever to win the Champions League with three different clubs (having already lifted it with Porto and Inter Milan).
There is, however, an awfully long way to go — both on the training field and in the season — if Spurs are to match the ruthlessness winning mentality of their manager.
It will also be interesting to see how far Tottenham fans embrace it. This, in the end, was fun — but you can be pretty certain it won’t be like this every week in future.
Next up for Spurs is a home game against Bournemouth in the Premier League on Saturday, with a trip to Old Trafford four days later — a day when Mourinho will once again be the focus of attention, as he was here.
And that’s just the way he likes it.
Tottenham Hotspur: Gazzaniga 7, Aurier 5, Alderweireld 6, Sanchez 6, Rose 5, Dier 5 (Eriksen 29; 6), Winks 6, Lucas Moura 6 (Sissoko 61; 6), Alli 8 (Ndombele 82; 6), Son 6, Kane 7.
Subs: Vertonghen, Sissoko, Lo Celso, Sessegnon, Austin.
Olympiacos: Jose Sa 6, Elabdellaoui 7, Semedo 7, Meriah 4, Tsimikas 6, Camara 6, Guilherme 6, Bouchalakis 6 (Valbuena 74; 6), Daniel Podence 7 (Randjelovic 79; 5), El Arabi 7, Giorgos Masouras 7.
Subs: Benzia, Guerrero, Allain, Papadopoulos, Torosidi.