Since Mourinho abandoned his 'pragmatic' style for an ultra-conservative counter-attacking philosophy, not only have recent Jose sides struggled to put away the smaller sides, in Europe and in the big domestic games, they've barely posed a threat. There has been the increasing sense that all he is capable of now is 'parking the bus' and relying on fortune rather than well-constructed counter attacks. Yet, the recent game against Klopp's Liverpool, a manager who has had Mourinho's number showed that Jose wasn't quite done just yet. Spurs still lost, but they had 14 shots to Liverpool's 13, despite having only 33% possession which illustrated that Jose had made Spurs clinical in possession - they were carving out chances on the counter at a high frequency.
Yesterday, Spurs were far less impressive statistically, only mustering 3 shots to Man City's 18. City were incredibly wasteful and Mourinho's side rode their luck but to the naked eye, there was a edge to this Spurs side, you always felt they were in it and that the spirit was strong. When Spurs transitioned the ball from defence to attack, it looked slick and fast paced, the absence of Kane proving to be a blessing in disguise - perhaps that is the key to Mourinho's recent resurgence in the big games, he's had to abandon the immobile target man and adopt an agile modern attack.
Turning point is a strong word and the performances in general under Jose have been quite lacklustre. Make no bones about it. the team's possession play in general has regressed since the peak Pochettino era. Nevertheless it is positive from a Champions League perspective, that Jose has seemingly recovered his appetite for the big scraps.
Since City's dramatic loss against Wolves, where Sterling managed to miss two penalties and still end with a brace... the diminutive wing-forward has not been able to stick the ball in the back of the net. His goal glut over and the tap ins drying up, Sterling's lack of natural finishing ability has once again been exposed. His 'bottom level' as a finisher is astonishingly mediocre when one compares it to his 'bottom level' as a ball-carrier. On an off-day he's still an incredibly difficult player to dispossess but even his dribbling was flat today, being dispossessed twice and just not being all that involved.. Mahrez had 74 touches to Sterling's 56.
So what seems to be the issue? is it being overplayed? the absence of Sane means Sterling is a de facto starter week in week out and one could argue it has taken its toll.. furthermore the fact that City are so far off the title challengers, has possibly demotivated Sterling with regards to domestic affairs.
One thing is for sure Sterling is the symbol of a deeper malaise within that City squad who all seem to be suffering a form of mental fatigue when it comes to the wear and tear of league football. Their heart doesn't seem to be in it but will they be able to snap out of it in time for the Champions League and take down Real Madrid? on this showing, it seems highly doubtful.. their front three aren't particularly clinical and the defence looks very vulnerable, especially down the left.
For all the criticism Mourinho receives and rightfully so in regards to unearthing and developing young attacking players, he doesn't have the same blind spot when it comes to developing young defenders. Japhet Tanganga is a young english defender of Congolese descent and of a similar mould to Aaron Wan Bissaka... a tenacious defender who guards the flank as if his life depends on it... possessing unreal athleticism yet possessing an element of defensive nous. It is high praise for someone who has barely strung a few games together but Sadio Mane and Riyad Mahrez are two of the trickiest wingers in the world to mark and he has not been found wanting.
As we can see from the graphic, Tanganga outperformed Kyle Walker and negated the threat of Mahrez, making 4 out of 5 tackles, 3 interceptions and dominating in the air with 3 headers (Mourinho loves full backs who are strong in the air). What is concerning however is that whilst Tanganga showed a great burst of energy down the flank in the first half, he only carried the ball once in the entire game, restricted to a purely defensive role. If he wants to compete with the likes of Trent-Alexander Arnold. Kieran Trippier, Ben Chilwell and not stagnate like Wan-Bissaka.. he's going to have to showcase a two-way game.
City were a class apart and should have won by a canter according to the numbers but as Mourinho knows all too well, football is more than mere data domination, it is about heart, about seizing the moment and having your finger on the pulse.. keeping your cool at the right moments and simply wanting it more than the opposition. Recent Mourinho sides have lacked that heart and togetherness, whilst also being short of quality.
Yesterday, Spurs wanted it more. It isn't something that you could confirm statistically but you could feel the fire coming from this Spurs side in the way they looked to win the ball and the sharpness in which they tried to counter (despite all too often the attacks breaking down). City on the other hand need to dig deep inside and find that fire in the belly, if they are to turn their undoubted superiority back into title-contending form for next season and finally make an impact on the Champions League.