MANCHESTER: Just as he has been ever since returning a fortnight ago, Jose Mourinho was on a charm offensive. He strode through the gates of Old Trafford’s players’ entrance and made a beeline for security guards, a match co-ordinator, and shortly after, he found Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, greeting him with a clasp of the face.
This is the new Mourinho, the Mourinho looking to build bridges. It was the Mourinho who now resembles one of those motivational Instagram accounts, misattributing quotations to historical figures and celebrities in his press conferences, insisting that the world is actually fine if you just think positively and are nice to people. Who knows?
But you imagine that after suffering his first defeat (1-2) as the new manager of Tottenham Hotspur, that sunny disposition will darken. There is no piece of Nelson Mandela wisdom that can easily explain this strangely limp Tottenham performance.
This was always likely to be a battle of two burning wreckages and though Mourinho’s arrival appeared to douse the flames in north London, defeat to a side as limited as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United showed that he has plenty of work left to do.
The spectre of Mauricio Pochettino still hangs over Old Trafford, though does not haunt Solskjaer as much. Pochettino’s ghost has not been entirely expunged from Tottenham either. Here was a reminder that their woeful start to this Premier League campaign — and their dismal end to the last one — was not solely the manager’s fault. Questions remain about the players that were at his disposal. The squad is still a talented one, but Tottenham’s limitations in both defence and midfield were laid bare here.
The lack of a reliable right-back continues to be an issue. Serge Aurier made a decent impression in Mourinho’s first three games and was not disastrous here either but, given that he is the one trusted to drive Tottenham forward from the back, his final delivery needs to improve. His sense of adventure also left Tottenham exposed at times, but he should have been able to count on protection in midfield.
That was where Tottenham lost this game, where the pairing of Moussa Sissoko and Harry Winks failed to exert any control over proceedings. And Sissoko, of course, conceded the crucial penalty. Eric Dier’s reputation has taken a hefty hit over the last few years, but Tottenham missed his presence.
Despite his smiles, laughs and grins, Mourinho will be aware that this squad still needs work and this club needs still whipping into shape. That will require a certain devilment and a particular ruthlessness. Forget the carrot, it’s time for the stick.