It is December 6 and in front of 2,000 delirious fans during that brief window of spectators being allowed in London stadiums, Tottenham beat Arsenal 2-0 in the derby.
Jose Mourinho’s team move above Liverpool and go top of the Premier League. The manager has that glint in his eye, the one that suggests he’s enjoying life again and a title challenge is taking shape.
Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Co have ripped Mikel Arteta’s team to shreds and afterwards Mourinho almost has to play down Tottenham’s chances of winning the league.
‘We can lose everywhere in the Premier League, we can go to any team and lose, any team can come here and beat us.’
Well, that statement certainly proved to be correct. Spurs have lost seven of their 13 league matches since. Their title bid has imploded, the team plummeting down the table to ninth with even European qualification far from guaranteed.
In that time, they have reached the final of the Carabao Cup, where Manchester City await on April 25, but have exited the FA Cup. They remain in the UEFA Europa League.
But the direction of travel under Mourinho already seems clear. After 15 months and 75 matches in the job, things are unravelling rapidly for a coach whose once special powers might have deserted him.
There is already talk that Spurs will move for RB Leipzig’s Julian Nagelsmann next and Mourinho increasingly has the look of yesterday’s man, a once-great manager in serial decline yet one who continues to rage against the fading of the light.
Mourinho now leads the Premier League sack race with the bookmakers and it looks increasingly likely he’ll be gone before the end of the season, with a hefty compensation package.
Nevertheless, he continues to come out fighting and insisted on Monday that he can still make history at Spurs.
‘I am calm. I am in control of my emotions and I cannot switch on and switch off [whether] I am happy and unhappy. My nature does not change,’ he said ahead of tonight’s Europa League clash against Austrian side Wolsfberger, which Spurs lead 4-1 after the first leg.
‘I lose a game and of course I am not happy. But maturity hopefully helps. I feel very confident and I believe we are going to improve and I believe that I will be in Tottenham’s history for the good reasons and not for the bad reasons.
‘I never felt what normally coaches felt when the results are bad, they are lonely men. That’s what we normally are. I never felt that in this building.
‘I feel not only respected but supported. Everybody in the same boat. Nobody is happy but nobody is depressed. I feel positive. Maybe a bit weird for you after losing so many matches but I’m positive. I’m not happy but I wake up wanting to come here.
‘Everybody is loving training and working hard with so many matches.’
Yet new problems seem to be emerging with every passing week. Here are just 10 of the areas where it’s going so wrong for Mourinho at Spurs.
Tottenham’s form has fallen off a cliff
Having lost just once in the Premier League prior to that win over Arsenal, Spurs have been beaten seven times since, including in five of their last six games.
It’s the most dramatic collapse in form during Mourinho’s long career in management. He is a man of diminishing returns.
Sunday’s 2-1 loss at West Ham was his 50th league match in charge of Spurs and he’s taken 81 points from a possible 150. By contrast, in his first spell at Chelsea, he took 126 points from 150.
In his second tenure at Stamford Bridge, he won 114 in that same time frame and even at Manchester United, Mourinho took 95 points. His return at Spurs is by some distance the worst of his career.
He has now also taken fewer points in his first 50 league games than predecessor Mauricio Pochettino did in his final 50 (85 points).
Mourinho has always been a manager who has asked to be judged on results – and, by extension, trophies won. At the moment, the results do not remotely suggest Tottenham are progressing under his management.
Missing the magic touch in biggest games
It has been quite astonishing how quickly Mourinho’s long-established ability to get his game plan spot on in the biggest games of the season has vanished.
Earlier in the campaign, his Spurs side won 6-1 at Manchester United, swept Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City aside 2-0, won the derby against Arsenal and knocked Chelsea out of the Carabao Cup on penalties.
It really seemed like Mourinho could do little wrong when it came to setting up Spurs on a bedrock of defensive stability and striking hard on the counter-attack.
But since the Arsenal win, they have lost to Liverpool (twice), Leicester, Chelsea, Man City and West Ham, plus Everton in the FA Cup, all teams in and around them in the table.
You’d expect Mourinho teams to win such games – and it wasn’t long ago they were. Now their rivals have his strategies completely figured out and Mourinho doesn’t have the solution as they slide down the table.
Where’s the plan B, Jose?
Spurs fans knew what they were getting when Mourinho came in just one day after Pochettino was sacked.
He is so familiar to the English game and so steadfast in his methods that everyone realised the football wasn’t going to be free-flowing or pleasing on the eye. The approach would often be defensively-minded and conservative, results would be ground out.
The trade-off with Mourinho is that he gets results and wins things. Given Tottenham’s long and agonising wait for silverware, it was something fans were willing to tolerate.
But it hasn’t taken long for what was an exciting and expressive Spurs team to become so straitjacketed by Mourinho’s methods they appear devoid of ideas and creativity.
It’s at its worst when they concede early in games, as at West Ham on Sunday, and the confidence drains away because the whole game plan is designed around keeping things tight in defence.
Even in matches against lesser opposition, Spurs are far too cautious in their approach as if terrified of conceding the first goal.
There’s also a stubborn inflexibility about Mourinho sometimes when it comes to putting a back-up plan into action in games.
You can imagine the dissent from the stands if supporters were currently allowed inside stadiums.
At least in the West Ham game, he brought on Gareth Bale at half-time and the team looked more lively in the final third. Though they threw the kitchen sink late on, the damage had already been inflicted.
Spurs will have to cast aside this caution and seize the initiative in games if they’re to climb back up the table but don’t bet on it happening.
He just can’t resist alienating players
Mourinho might describe it as ‘tough love’. Outsiders would consider it ‘alienation’ or even ‘bullying’.
Luke Shaw was one victim during his time at Manchester United, with Mourinho’s constant sniping eroding the defender’s confidence.
This time you could say Bale, Vinicius or Doherty have been deemed inadequate by the manager. But Danny Rose and Dele Alli are better examples.
Rose returned from his loan spell at Newcastle in the summer, wasn’t allocated a squad number, was left out of Tottenham’s Premier League and Europa League squads, and made to play for the under-23 sides. This is an England international left-back.
Rose was critical of Mourinho when he was packed off on loan and it seems that hasn’t been forgotten. His career has been put on ice in effect but he didn’t leave the club in January.
The turbulent tale of Alli and Mourinho is well known. The clip in the Amazon documentary in which Mourinho tells the player he is ‘f****** lazy’ and says he will be a ‘pain in the a***’ to him (‘a good thing’ apparently) received plenty of traction.
There was also the moment Alli was called out for being ‘lazy’ during a team talk.
There have been the odds times when it looks like Mourinho’s ‘tough love’ approach might just have coaxed some brilliance out of Alli but the fact he has started only one league game and played 632 minutes of football all season must have destroyed confidence.
Instead of kicking on towards trying to get in the England squad for the Euros, Alli has been largely forgotten about.
He seems to have become the latest player to be broken by Mourinho’s insistence in subtle but pointed public criticism of his players over and over again.
Has anyone actually improved under Mourinho?
We are going through extraordinary times and with the fixture schedule so congested, it is difficult for any manager to get any quality time with his players on the training ground.
After the loss at West Ham, Mourinho came out and said: ‘For a long, long, long, long time we have problems in the team that I cannot resolve by myself as a coach.’
It could be interpreted in many ways, but surely the coach’s job is to fix problems and, over the long term, improve the players through effective coaching.
Compare and contrast how Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester, Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City or even Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United have improved by the culmination of coaching work.
It’s nigh on impossible to see how Mourinho has improved many of Tottenham’s players during his time working with them.
Kane, perhaps, in his conversion into an all-round centre forward willing to drop deep and tee up attacks. Arguably Son with his deadly finishing but that was maybe there anywhere. Dier as a reliable centre-half at the start of the season before he went backwards.
Beyond that, you’re running thin on the ground. Mourinho should be a coach players relish working with in the knowledge they will learn things that improve their game.
While other teams progress, Spurs are moving in the opposite direction at the moment.
The ‘best coach’ delusion
And yet, Mourinho defiantly came out after the West Ham defeat and said he never questions his methods, proclaiming them: ‘Second to nobody in the world.’
A decade ago, maybe, but it’s very hard to make that claim now. Quite the opposite, his methods and approach to setting his teams up appears rigid and outdated.
Mourinho continues to hark back to former glories, as he did when things imploded at Man United with his ‘three Premier League titles, respect’ press conference exit.
Nobody is taking that away from him but he hasn’t won a trophy now since 2017. It may well be that Spurs spring a surprise and win the Carabao Cup in April but given City’s imperious form, it’s a tall order.
They may yet go far in Europe, but their decline in the league will set alarm bells ringing. They can’t afford to miss out on Champions League football again having made the competition their own in recent years.
The acrimonious way in which Mourinho’s second Chelsea tenure and his time at Old Trafford drew to a close seemed to have been accelerated this time around.
Normally, this self-inflicted implosion happens in the third season. We’re only in the second and there hasn’t yet been the piece of silverware first to soften the blow.
Continue in this vein and you do wonder who’ll touch Mourinho in the future. At 58, he has plenty more years of management left you’d imagine but who needs the bother?
Leaky defence letting the side down
Given the importance he places on a resolute back line, the recent error-strewn performances must have infuriated Mourinho.
The FA Cup defeat at Everton, in which they conceded five goals, was a comedy of errors but it seems every opponent they face at the moment is finding the gaps.
Eric Dier started the season brilliantly but mistakes crept into his game and Mourinho left him out of three recent games before restoring him.
It followed a couple of dodgy moments – the failure to take command and cut out Sadio Mane’s cross for Roberto Firmino to tap home Liverpool’s opener in the home game, and the sloppy foul on Timo Werner that allowed Jorginho to settle the Chelsea match from the penalty spot.
Mourinho said Dier was suffering a ‘crisis of confidence’ but others have been worse.
Toby Alderweireld was poor against Everton and has been in and out of the team all season. The Belgian seems to be missing his compatriot Jan Vertonghen, who left last summer, and question marks are being asked of the 32-year-old’s abilities.
The same might be said of Davinson Sanchez, who has looked shaky during the recent run of poor results. You can be sure that if Mourinho somehow stays on until next season, he will be agitating for a top-class centre-half to be signed.
The situation at right-back is another that hasn’t really been solved. You have Serge Aurier who isn’t fully trusted and dogged by injuries, and Matt Doherty, who looked a smart signing, but is in and out of the team.
Then in some games, oddly you have Moussa Sissoko asked to slot in there. It’s a strange situation.
No trust in summer signings
If a manager comes in to a club mid-season and is stuck with signings his predecessor made, you’d be more inclined to understand why these players weren’t being used much.
But with the lesser-spotted Doherty and Carlos Vinicius, these are players Mourinho wanted to bring in.
The Irish right-back, who cost £13.4m from Wolves, has been favoured in the Europa League but can’t get a run of games in the Premier League.
He hasn’t started any of their last five league matches and there are reports that he could be sold this summer because Mourinho has doubts over his potential. Yet it wasn’t so long ago Doherty was being held up as a smart piece of business.
Vinicius, meanwhile, loaned from Benfica, has started only one league game and has played just 715 minutes of football in all competitions all season, scoring seven times, three of which were against non-league Marine.
Fair enough, any striker at Spurs is going to play second fiddle to Kane but you do wonder what the point of signing Vinicius was.
Bale’s return has been a shambles
But the most ridiculous waste of summer transfer business has been the return of Gareth Bale.
With Spurs paying £250,000 of his £600,000-a-week wages, you’d expect the Real Madrid loanee to be a regular fixture in their attack.
Quite the opposite. Bale has started only two Premier League games all season, has spent most of his season warming the bench and seems doomed to play most of his football in the UEFA Europa League.
The usual injury issues have ruled him out of certain games but his romantic return to the club has been a real shambles so far.
Bale vowed to redouble his efforts a few weeks ago and there have been glimpses of the magic he could once produce. He looked good in the second-half against West Ham when Mourinho brought him on for Erik Lamela.
The Welsh star should be playing and starting more often if he can boost the attack but there seems to be a real reluctance. You do wonder whether Bale is any happier warming the bench in London than he was warming the bench in Madrid.
No Kane or Son? Big problem
Mourinho said a couple of weeks ago that Tottenham depend on Kane and he has a point. They seem doomed to fail if Kane and Son Heung-min don’t perform.
They lost to Brighton and then Chelsea when Kane suffered an ankle knock last month and returned to winning ways against West Brom when he came back.
Kane has scored 16 goals and contributed 13 assists this season, reflecting his development into the complete forward, while Son has 17 goals and 11 assists.
Next in the chart comes Lucas Moura with seven goals and four assists, so you can see what Mourinho is getting at. Those two are the only Spurs players that frighten opponents.
It’s possible that someone will come in with a £150m bid for Kane in the summer. Good luck replacing him.