Jose Mourinho had savoured the 7-2 and the 5-2 and the 6-1 and rued the 3-3, but finally the great killjoy had a recognisable result.
The Portuguese’s pragmatic streak meant he was always more the heir to George Graham than the new Bill Nicholson, yet the roundhead liked the praise that came from a temporary transition into a cavalier.
But Mourinho has made a reputation and a fortune from hard-fought 1-0s and few feel tougher than this. Tottenham ground it out, against the run of play, with more efficiency than entertainment. Typical Jose, perhaps, but atypical of this surreal season.
“It’s good fun to be an attacking player in our team,” Mourinho had said. It wasn’t for 75 minutes at Turf Moor. Son Heung-min had seven goals in his four previous league games. Harry Kane had five goals and seven assists in five. The striker had cleared off his own line, materialising behind Hugo Lloris to meet James Tarkowski’s header, but they had been nullified by Burnley to such an extent that neither had even registered a shot on target. Nor, indeed, had Tottenham.
Until Kane mustered a second pivotal penalty-box header, meeting Erik Lamela’s corner and finding Son at the far post. The South Korean managed a similarly precise header, beating Nick Pope to distance Dominic Calvert-Lewin and become the division’s outright top scorer. It continued the most prolific partnership in the country: This was Kane’s seventh assist for Son, but if others have been playmakers’ passes from deep in his own half, this was a set-piece routine. Tottenham, who have conceded from dead-ball situations all too often this season, could relish a role reversal.
Burnley, who almost won it from a corner, lost from one instead. They have a solitary point and yet their first victory feels nearer. They had more shots and more on target than Tottenham; more ambition, too. Burnley are recapturing their Burnleyness. Josh Brownhill got 2020’s quickest Premier League booking. Ashley Barnes felled Toby Alderweireld with an elbow. Their methods were largely legal, though. They were compact and obdurate, set up in two blocks of four; literally, given their defence’s willingness to block shots.
Tottenham’s last trip to the north brought a 6-1 thrashing of Manchester United but Tarkowski provided stiffer resistance than Harry Maguire. And yet there are different ways of achieving the same objective. Tottenham had scored 13 first-half goals alone in their previous four matches. They were muted. Burnley at least began to test Lloris, through Ashley Westwood and Johann Berg Gudmundsson.
Despite his pre-match rhetoric, Mourinho had shown his cautious side. Tottenham certainly missed a man they signed from Real Madrid: Sergio Reguilon’s incision from left-back would have been welcome, but this, Mourinho decided, was a game for battle-hardened warriors instead. He sent on Lamela, not Gareth Bale, whose last trip to Turf Moor was a 2009 League Cup semi-final, but was justified by the Argentinian’s influence.
Until his introduction, Spurs had gone from free-scoring to boring, but Kane and Son – their head boys – made the difference, and Tottenham, scarred by a surfeit of drama against West Ham, could enjoy an altogether duller game.
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