London (AFP) – Jose Mourinho’s home debut as Tottenham Hotspur manager was not without drama as his new side fell 2-0 behind to Olympiakos before roaring back to book their place in the last 16 of the Champions League with a 4-2 victory.
That fighting spirit was often in evidence on a rollercoaster ride to last season’s final, the first in the club’s history.
But the defensive disorganisation of the opening half-hour against the Greek side, who have not won away in the Champions League for four years, has been a familiar sight for Spurs this season.
It ultimately cost Mauricio Pochettino his job last week after five and a half years of progress that catapulted Spurs into European football’s elite.
So will Mourinho’s Tottenham truly be Champions League contenders come the new year or cannon fodder for the competition’s favourites as Bayern Munich showed with a 7-2 mauling of their hosts in London last month?
– Goals galore –
Securing a place in the knockout stages for a third straight year means time is on Spurs’ side to sort themselves out and allow Mourinho to implement the changes he sees fit before the competition starts again in February.
The Portuguese’s success over the past two decades has been built on a solid defensive structure and if he can get that right, there is no doubt he has the quality at his disposal going forward to worry even the best teams in the competition.
Despite a difficult start to the group stage, Spurs still boast two of the top five goalscorers in the competition this season in Harry Kane and Son Heung-min.
Among Mourinho’s first priorities has been to get Dele Alli back to being the same player who was one of Europe’s rising stars.
The England international started the fightback against Olympiakos and was highly impressive in a 3-2 win over West Ham United on Saturday that got Mourinho off to a winning start in the Premier League.
Captain Hugo Lloris should be back in goal for the last 16 and Mourinho is banking on the confidence of his side coming back with every passing victory.
“The next game at home I expect the boys to start without ghosts, to start immediately open and confident because the players are very, very good players,” he said after citing his belief that the scars of the Bayern defeat were still apparent early on against Olympiakos.
– Second best –
However, the thrashing by the German champions could still have a lasting effect on Tottenham’s Champions League chances.
They will go into the last-16 draw as second seeds, opening themselves up to the possibility of facing the likes of Paris Saint-Germain or Juventus in February.
“When a team arrives in quarter-finals, it has the same chances as the other seven,” said Mourinho.
“When you arrive in the last 16, no, because when you arrive in the last 16 you have finished first or second.
“If you finish first you play against a second, if you finish second, the second match will be away, so to finish second diminishes the percentage chance (of going through).”
Mourinho revelled in a game-changing substitution after just 29 minutes on Tuesday as he summoned the wantaway Christian Eriksen from the bench to add a creative spark.
However, Eriksen may not be there to call on come February as Spurs will need to sell in January to recoup any money on the Dane prior to his contract expiring in the summer.
Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen are in the same position and, according to reports, Spurs will need to sell before any money is handed to Mourinho to reinforce his squad.
Tottenham beat the odds time and again under Pochettino to progress further in the Champions League every season.
Mourinho will need to work similar miracles if they are to take the biggest step from finalists to champions come May.
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