Long ago are the days of Pochettino diminishing the importance of a ‘small’ cup at Spurs. The League Cup is widely known as the least well regarded piece of silverware in England, but Mourinho pays no mind to that. Historically he’s taken the competition seriously, winning it three times with Chelsea and once with Manchester United.
Knowing that, Spurs were always going to take their semi-final against Brentford seriously - but prior to the match, there was a sense that this could be yet another example of Spurs falling short. Their form has sputtered in December, and Brentford are one of the best sides in the Championship. Not that their success has been limited to England’s second tier league, Brentford had to win against four Premier League clubs to meet Spurs in the semi-final.
The tie is done and dusted and Spurs are well on their way to Wembley to face Manchester City in the final. Tottenham put in a complete performance so it’s worth noting some key takeaways for future matches.
Lucas Moura still has a part to play in the squad
It’s no secret that Lucas’ performances have faded badly ever since his magical night in Amsterdam. He was a clear winner in Mourinho’s appointment as the new manager favored industry above all else. But now that Spurs have positive style of play, Lucas can be somewhat of an attacking liability. His link up play with anyone apart from Aurier is consistently off the mark, and he’s the player that’s most likely to put his head down and dribble right into a defender.
With a tight budget (as always) and an atrociously busy match schedule, Mourinho will have to lean on these fringe players like Lucas for rotation and hope that they respond with good performances. That’s exactly what Lucas did - he was the perfect player for this match as Spurs played an unusually high line and needed someone upfront who could tirelessly pressure Brentford players to avoid an accurate overhead pass.
More than that, he linked up well with the forward line. Ended the match with an 84% passing success rate and created an opportunity for Son.
As Spurs progress in cup competitions and face tougher opposition Lucas might find minutes a bit harder to come by but when Mourinho opts for a high line, Moura is a player that he can rely on.
Davinson Sanchez has a role too
Sanchez has had a rocky couple of years at Spurs after his record signing from Ajax. Most would call him a good, not great, signing despite all the signs that Pochettino & Co were confident that he would develop into a centerback stalwart in the league. After a couple of high profile mistakes this season, Mourinho has opted to keep him out of the squad more often than not in the league. Most people would love to see him move on, but I’m not convinced.
Sanchez is still only 24 - admittedly he still has the once per 90 minute mistake in him (came close to giving Brentford a penalty) but there was also a time in which Dier suffered from the same lapses in concentration. He’s by no means a world beater now, but he’s settled nicely into an extended run of form. For his part, Sanchez won 67% of his duels against Brentford.
With limited game time in the league, he’s 7th busiest centerback in league with defensive duels - this might be chalked up to Spurs style of play, but both Dier and Alderweireld are further down on the list. It stands to reason that when you are one of the busiest centerbacks there’s more room for error. Still, his success rate in defensive actions is 70% which is on the higher end in the league.
Similar to Lucas, perhaps his strengths shine when he plays in a high line. He did well in cutting off Ivan Toney as an outlet from Brentford. If a pass had been sent over the top he has the pace to have been able to cope with it.
Tanguy Ndombele has good positioning but needs more of the ball
On the ball, Tanguy Ndombele is by far the most exciting midfielder currently in a Spurs shirt. Only superseded by the generational talents that are Kane and Son, every time the Frenchman is on the ball you can feel that something special can happen. Mourinho’s trust in him seems to be expanding, evidenced by Ndombele playing the full 90 for the first time in months. In the attacking process, however, Spurs players need to do a better job of finding him.
If there’s one aspect of Ndombele’s play that can be regarded as underrated it’s his positioning during offensive transitions.
There was a new development to Ndombele’s positioning during this match too - he now has the freedom to sit in the back three when Hobjerg and Sissoko are further up the pitch. Some might think that this is a waste of Ndombele’s talents but I think the opposite is true. One of his standout stats in his last season in Lyon was the sheer number of deep progressions per 90. Remember that when he was first brought to Spurs, he was seen as the first real Mousa Dembele replacement that could connect middle of the pitch to the final third. With Ndombele dropping deep, it gives Spurs an extremely valuable way of cutting open an organized defense.
Spurs tend to struggle against opposition that sits back. An answer to a defensive setup might be to push Ndombele further back and allow him to pull the strings from the middle of the pitch instead of the final third.
Mourinho can make Spurs play like favorites
Regardless of how well Brentford have been playing this season, Spurs were always favorites for this match. The gap in quality is not huge - this was not Bayern Munich facing a side from 2. Bundesliga - but still absolutely there. The question before the game was would Spurs yet again succumb to a sense of complacency and exhibit a weak mentality when they know full well they should be playing the opposition off the park.
It was a good win, but how Spurs won is even more important. They completely nullified Brentford’s plan and for 90 minutes the game carried on as Tottenham wanted it to. Signs of Mourinho’s winning mentality seeping into the entire team are there. Let’s see if Spurs have anything to show for it by the end of the season.