Tanguy Ndombele’s form has undergone a resurgence at Tottenham this season because the midfielder “realised he had to change”, according to Jose Mourinho.
Many eyes will be on the Tottenham bench away at Sheffield United on Sunday, live on Sky Sports Premier League, to see if there is a place for Dele Alli, with much being made of his lack of first-team involvement this season.
A year ago, there was similar intrigue surrounding Ndombele’s absence from the team.
The combative France international midfielder endured spells on the sidelines because of injuries last term but he was also heavily criticised by Mourinho for lacklustre displays, following his arrival from Lyon for £54m in July 2019.
Now though, he is transformed. The 24-year-old has scored as many goals (two) and created as many chances (12) so far this season as he did during the whole of last season, and he is a regular starter in Mourinho’s first XI.
Only Hugo Lloris, Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Eric Dier have started more matches for Tottenham in the Premier League so far this season.
Mourinho believes Ndombele’s turnaround demonstrates what can be achieved if a player has the desire to “work in a different way”.
“I always say, and I’ve really felt it all through my career, that the big responsibility for good and for bad is [with] the player,” Mourinho said in an exclusive interview with Sky Sports News when asked about his role and personal pride in Ndombele’s revival.
“We don’t make miracles. We don’t make players when they have no quality and when they have no desire and no discipline and no motivation. So for good or bad, it’s always the player’s responsibility and we are the ones who can try to help.
“Sometimes they are open for that and other times they are not. When they are not, there is nothing you can do, but when they are open, you feel that motivation to help them.
“When Tanguy arrived here his condition was not good. When I arrived he was getting small injury after small injury which I believe was his responsibility.
“And for him to realise that he had to change, and work in a different way, is to his credit. Yes, he is playing and playing well. We are happy with him. But, I repeat, it’s total credit to Tanguy.”
‘The Premier League table has a strange view’
It is first versus second in the Premier League on Sunday, as it was just over a month ago.
On December 15, top-of-the-table Tottenham took on Liverpool at Anfield. They lost to a late Roberto Firmino goal that day and have won only once in the top flight since.
This Super Sunday it is Manchester United going to Anfield, hoping to get a result and remain at the summit. United are the eighth team to be Premier League leaders this season, and Mourinho expects that number to increase.
“I think so yes,” he said when asked if the occupant of first place will keep changing.
“Postponed matches can create a strange view. The table will always have a strange look and give a strange idea of reality.
“You can look at the table, but you need to look also at how many matches a team has played or how many have been at home.”
He highlights the fact that when Tottenham’s season reaches the halfway point later this month, they will have played the champions twice but they will not have played Aston Villa at all.
“For example, in our case, next week [in 11 days’ time] we will become the only team who’ve played twice against Liverpool,” Mourinho explains.
He thinks the unpredictability could continue for a few months yet: “I think it will also depend on the number of matches postponed.
“The end of the season when everybody has played 19 matches home and away is the moment to have a real look at the real thing.”
Tottenham would probably be top themselves, but for an unwanted knack this season of letting leads slip, and Mourinho is aware of that.
But he insists Tottenham are not the only side struggling to find consistency – according to Mourinho, most teams are, including his last club.
“For some time it’s looked obvious to everybody that it’s proving difficult for every team to be consistent.
“You can, for example, look at [Manchester United] and say, yes they are leaders of the table, but they have already lost in two competitions, the Champions League and the Carabao Cup.”
‘Sheffield United cannot be underestimated’
Mourinho feels Sheffield United are better than their bottom-of-the-table status suggests and he knows not to take them lightly. Tottenham lost 3-1 at Bramall Lane in July.
“I look at them, I look at Chris [Wilder] and the way they play, it’s the same coach, the same players apart from one or two, the same system, normally,” Mourinho said.
“I would say in the majority of matches, what made the difference was one goal.”
In that way, Mourinho can see a similarity between Sheffield United and Spurs: “It’s like what has happened to us so many times.
“One goal made the difference between one point and three points. In their case one goal made the difference between zero and one, that’s why they have so many defeats.
“But I look to them as the threat, they can be and a difficult opponent.”
Watch Sheffield United vs Tottenham on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event from 1pm on Sunday; kick-off 2pm