Harry Kane, Heung-min Son and Tanguy Ndombele were all told to get ready as Mourinho called for the cavalry. As they were preparing to come on, Carlos Vinicius opened the scoring as he tapped home after Gareth Bale’s drilled free-kick was tipped onto the post and dropped in the goal mouth.
With the lead secured, Antwerp not threatening and such a packed Christmas schedule ahead, it wouldn’t have been surprising if Mourinho had told the trio to stand down and put their coats back on. But he sent them on anyway and followed up with another sure-starter for Sunday’s game at Crystal Palace in Moussa Sissoko.
While the decision brought obvious risk, it perhaps delivered a timely message to Mourinho’s second string of the standard they’ll have to match in order to force their way into the side.
With the group stage behind him, Mourinho may not have the luxury to rotate quite so much come the knockout rounds when things become far more serious for his side, while at the same time the title race tightens ever still.
Tottenham’s tempo and threat double immediately following their introduction. Where before they had battled to break down the Belgian visitors, one move and touch from Kane was parting the back four with ease.
Vinicius’s display was an encouraging one, as was Japhet Tanganga’s at the back, but few of Mourinho’s fringe players offered any reassurance that they could be relied upon when it really matters over the coming weeks and months.
Bale’s free-kick was a timely reminder of the quality he still possesses. It was a reminder that a few here may have needed too. The fans getting a first glimpse in seven years cheered his name when it was read out but had little to get excited about on the ball. The free-kick proved his final touch, ending on a high with an early substitution – perhaps in preparation for Sunday – but there still seems a way to go for the Welshman.
Winks too failed to take his chance and looked frustrated at being hooked alongside Bale.
A lot has changed for Dele Alli since he was involved in a game in front of supporters. Having been left out of the squad for the north London derby on Sunday, this was the first time he’d been involved with supporters back.
There was a warm welcome from the 2,000 in attendance who sung his name, but no such affection from Jose Mourinho who, with the game comfortably in control, elected to leave the forgotten midfielder on the bench, sending on players whose futures are entirely secure.
Earlier in the day, Dele had been named as one of the top 55 players in the world by FIFA, an opinion clearly not shared by his manager at the moment.
Jose Mourinho confidently shrugged off any concerns of finishing second and facing a bigger side in the first round of the knockout stages, but topping the group means they can rest a little easier ahead of Monday’s draw.
The higher seeding which comes with finishing top may mean they end up in a more obscure corner of Europe for the tie, but will give Mourinho one less headache in an already chaotic season.
This weekend get a £10 free bet with Betfair, when you bet £10 on a Same Game Multi on the Premier League.
Terms: Min £10 Same Game Multi bet on any EPL match this Fri – Sun. Free bet valid for 72 hours, awarded at bet settlement. Excludes cashed out bets. T&Cs apply.