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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 5 March 2021

Spurs manager Jose Mourinho to go 'full power' in the Europa League with Dele Alli facing exile again

English attacker might not even make the squad for Thursday's match against Ludogorets

It was not just social distancing, you suspect, that made Jose Mourinho sit alone. Glasses around his neck, mask on his face, surrounded by empty seats on the coach, he was a study in miserable isolation.

“Bad performances deserve bad results,” was his blunt caption on the picture on his Instagram account. “Hope everyone in this bus is as upset as I am.”

That was a week ago. Tottenham had lost to Antwerp. “My future choices will be easy,” said Mourinho. It felt a warning. Six days on, he blamed himself instead. “I don't think against Antwerp it was the players, it was the attitude and the way we faced the game,” he said.

Thursday provides the first real examination of those choices. “We will go full power,” pledged a manager who summoned some of his premier players as substitutes in Belgium, where Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg all made cameos. They were restored for Sunday’s win over Brighton.

Tottenham are in Bulgaria, facing Ludogorets in a match that assumes added importance for two reasons. A group also including LASK Linz looks very winnable but a second successive loss would pose problems.

“We cannot come back with a defeat or it will be difficult for the rest of the competition,” said Moussa Sissoko. “We didn’t play well last week. This was not acceptable.”

Mourinho’s selections are instructive: he vowed to parachute his talismen in to try and get a response, and a first-choice like Sissoko seems set to be involved. It is bad news for some understudies and a question of which fringe figures are omitted.

Mourinho can be the master of the snub. He is also in a position of rare luxury. The six additions Tottenham made in an unexpectedly ambitious summer spending spree gives him a sizeable, quality squad, the luxury of two players for every position and arguably the best second 11 in England.

Mourinho, who said he wished he could have made 11 changes at half-time last week, actually can when selecting his side.

Joe Rodon is ineligible and Serge Aurier, Sergio Reguilon and Erik Lamela injured but that still leaves an albeit imbalanced 11 of Joe Hart, Davinson Sanchez, Japhet Tanganga, Ben Davies, Gareth Bale, Giovani Lo Celso, Harry Winks, Dele Alli, Lucas Moura, Steven Bergwijn and Carlos Vinicius who did not begin against Brighton.

Mourinho has guaranteed that Bale, fresh from the first goal of his second spell on Sunday, will start. Others may be spectators. Alli, Bergwijn, Lo Celso and Vinicius were the quartet hauled off at half-time in Antwerp. The Argentinian was forgiven enough to be used as a replacement against Brighton; the other three were not even on the bench.

As ever, there is a particular focus on Alli. The Englishman has started three games this season; Mourinho removed him at the break in two and after an hour in the other. And yet there came a reminder that a player whose European exploits included a match-winning double against Real Madrid was regarded among the great talents of his generation.

Mauricio Pochettino made an unprompted comparison with two of his former team-mates, Diego Maradona and Ronaldinho, when saying Alli had a similar “charisma.” It was something Mourinho initially identified and tapped into it.

A subsequent fall from grace has been swift and, if he can no longer get into the Europa League side, it would indicate how far he has fallen.

Perhaps Mourinho has written Alli off. Vinicius, a recent arrival for a role Mourinho had targeted, as Kane’s back-up, is likelier to be afforded a reprieve. But Mourinho’s eloquence can spread from the press conference to social media to the teamsheet.

Published: November 5, 2020 06:55 AM

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