It has taken some time but Tottenham have now experienced peak Jose Mourinho.
A return to his past glories came in the perfect scenario – against his arch foe – and, more importantly, in the most traditional of manners.
Tottenham had three shots, spent the majority of the game with every player behind the ball being pummelled by their opponents, and yet they won 2-0.
The scoreline owed a great deal to good fortune, with Ilkay Gundogan’s first-half penalty saved by a Hugo Lloris who came well off his line, and Oleksandr Zinchenko’s two yellow cards giving them more than a helping hand.
But viewed in the context of Mourinho’s management career, the game actually followed a well-worn blueprint. It may have been remarkable for the number of controversial incidents – VAR induced or otherwise – but it was reminiscent of so many of the Portuguese’s greatest moments.
Like Spurs, Mourinho’s Inter Milan had just one third of the ball in their famous Champions League final success against Bayern Munich in 2010. But like Spurs, they also triumphed 2-0.
Mourinho’s modus operandi of sit-in, hold your shape, slow the game down with niggly fouls before looking to spring attacks on the counter-attack has been successful for a reason – and successful against Pep Guardiola in particular.
Spurs’s manager is a pragmatist. Since taking over from Mauricio Pochettino he has preached baby steps towards attainable goals. There have been promises of gradual evolution instead of revolution.
On Sunday we saw the embodiment of what he has been talking about as Spurs moved fifth and to within four points of fourth place in the Premier League.
In the first half Spurs were second best. City dominated the ball and probed down the wings through Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez. They penetrated the home side’s penalty area on several occasions and should have taken the lead.
Sergio Aguero was uncharacteristically wayward. Sterling was haphazard near goal. It was VAR which came to their aid, awarding a penalty for a foul on Aguero some two minutes after the incident, leaving fans inside the stadium equally confused and furious. Gundogan could not convert and Sterling’s follow-up appeal for a foul against Lloris was waved away as the handbags came out.
After the break Spurs continued to live a charmed life, with Aguero and then Sterling failing to capitalise after Lloris clashed with Davinson Sanchez to leave the goal gaping.
Then came the game-turning moment. Mahrez’s woeful corner invited Harry Winks to counter and the Spurs midfielder was brought down by Zinchenko. The left-back’s second yellow was quickly followed by the opening goal, as new signing Steven Bergwijn announced himself with a brilliant, instinctive volley into the bottom corner with Spurs’ first shot on target.
Mourinho had benefited from luck, but he can claim his fingerprints on the second goal. Substitute Tanguy Ndombele came onto the pitch and straight away drove forward in midfield to feed Son Heung-min in space. The South Korean shot past Ederson via a deflection off Fernandinho and the stadium erupted.
That was the tactical side of Mourinho. There was also the classic technical area theatrics to go with it, the Portuguese springing to his feet to argue with the fourth official when Sterling, who had already been booked, made another foul.
His team may have harked back to his glory days, but post-match there was none of the gloating of old. He was almost downbeat in his manner, if not in his criticism of VAR, as he underlined his key messages. Spurs are looking down the table as well as up. Injuries are making his job harder.
“We look up, but we also look down,” he said. “I look to my team, to my squad, with the problems we’ve had with injuries. It’s going to be hard.”
This is Jose Mourinho 2.0: reserved and realistic.