José Mourinho had framed the beginning of Tottenham’s Europa League group stage adventure with trademark swagger. Holding three footballs in a photograph for Instagram, he posted that they signified the two Europa Leagues he already had in his pocket and the one he intends to go for this season. The shrinking violet’s record in the competition reads two entries and two trophies with Porto and Manchester United.
The manager is determined to lead from the front in his mission to harden the squad’s mentality, to browbeat his charges into becoming winners and, after the implosion against West Ham, this was more like it. The surrender of a 3-0 lead to draw 3-3 had drawn the inevitable Spursy jibes but this was a performance of cutting edge allied to discipline against the team from Austria that had hammered Sporting Lisbon 4-1 in Portugal to get here.
Mourinho gave Carlos Vinícius a debut and there was plenty to like about the striker’s performance. The early signs are that the club finally have credible specialist back-up for Harry Kane. Vinícius made the opening goal for Lucas Moura and the last one for the substitute, Son Heung-min and, with Gareth Bale forcing an own goal out of Andrés Andrade for the second on 27 minutes, Spurs were in something like cruise control.
Mourinho feels more secure in his options than when he kicked off in the competition in the middle of last month, courtesy of what he felt was an outstanding transfer window, and his line-up bristled with quality, even though he made wholesale changes from Sunday’s wild 3-3 draw against West Ham.
Vinícius, the loan signing from Benfica, was prominent at the outset, missing a gilt-edged headed chance from Matt Doherty’s cross – he got the connection all wrong when unmarked from close range – but made amends by setting up the first goal.
Ben Davies, who played on the left of a central defensive two and captained the team, dropped a ball over the top that Vinícius killed with a fine touch before seeing Lucas’s darting run and, showing beautiful balance, picking him out with a low cross. Lucas finished calmly.
Spurs’s second was all about Sergio Reguilón and a storming run from the left-back which took him past three Lask players and away from a fourth. He found Erik Lamela, who played it wide for Gareth Bale and he stabbed in a low cross from the right with the outside of his left boot. It was meant for Vinícius, although he was offside. Happily for Spurs, the ball did not reach him, Andrés Andrade bundling it past his own goalkeeper.
Spurs enjoyed themselves in the first half, nobody more so than Lucas, who pulled a couple of high balls out of the sky with velvet touches and even showed off his spring to win a towering header inside the area. Bale and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg executed nutmegs, the former linked well with Doherty and Spurs would have been further in front had Lamela finished when one-on-one with Alexander Schlager.
Lask brought a bit of attitude, especially the attacking midfielder, Peter Michorl, who was fortunate to escape an early yellow card for a stamp on Doherty and did get booked on 45 minutes for cleaning out Vinícius.
The visitors had flickers in the first-half, with Doherty blocking well from the captain, Gernot Trauner, just before the interval and Andreas Gruber extending Joe Hart with a curling shot from the edge of the area. Husein Balic had earlier got the better of Dávinson Sánchez only to scuff his shot.
Lask had begun in a 3-3-1-3 formation, with Michorl in the hole behind the forwards, but they switched to 4-1-4-1 before half-time, as they tried to be tighter. Mourinho’s team were comfortable in his favoured 4-2-3-1 with Højbjerg in authoritative mood in front of the defence. He was bloodied in a clash of heads after he had put the ball through René Renner’s legs and he needed to have a bandage wound around his head. He re-emerged for the second half without it, firing the hard-man look.
Mourinho made changes on the hour, with one of them being to swap Bale for Son. Bale had played for 18 minutes against West Ham but it ought to be pointed out that the appearance had taken his minutes since the end of February to 253. His performance here was more about guile than explosivity. He is feeling his way back to prime condition.
The second half was indeed tighter and Spurs had to wait for the third, Vinícius cushioning a perfect header from Doherty’s cross down for Son, who swept home his ninth of the season. There was even time for Jack Clarke to get on for his Spurs debut and almost add a fourth, his drive flashing narrowly past the far post.