Jose Mourinho conceded Southampton were the better side following Tottenham’s dramatic 3-2 win in the FA Cup fourth-round replay on Wednesday.
Mourinho’s men looked to be heading out of the competition with less than 20 minutes remaining as Saints goals from Shane Long and Danny Ings overturned an early Jack Stephens own goal.
But Lucas Moura levelled before Heung-Min Son set up a home tie with Norwich next month from the penalty spot.
Speaking afterwards, Mourinho said: The best team lost. The best team on the pitch lost. If you look at it in a pragmatic way, forgetting that they had their best players, they had their full team, they had one more day to rest, we were really in trouble.
We were in real, real trouble to build a team, lots of fatigue after the match against Manchester City… if you forget these important items and you analyse in a simple pragmatic way, the best team lost.
They were better than us, they were faster than us, they were stronger physically than us. They press, they had intensity, they had chances.
They were the best team, but I cannot forget all the other circumstances, and my players, they were phenomenal. The way they react was fantastic. They showed incredible heart and had a great connection with the crowd.
They gave absolutely everything. I think the best team lost, but we deserved to win.
What will concern Mourinho is the return of suspect defending. Spurs have only kept three clean sheets in 19 games under his tutelage.
‘A game of chess but without the pieces’
Mourinho was brought in as Mauricio Pochettino’s successor to end Tottenham’s 12-year wait for a trophy, and a quarter-final spot will be at stake against Norwich.
The Portuguese admitted he struggled to select a team for the replay, comparing it to playing a game of chess without any pieces.
Spurs were without the injured Harry Kane, Moussa Sissoko, Ben Davies, Giovani Lo Celso and Erik Lamela, while a half-fit Dele Alli came off the bench and Steven Bergwijn was ineligible.
I had to manage this chess game without pieces, he added. You know. No bishops, no kings, no queens. Very, very hard with so many injuries and problems. No Bergwijn.
I cannot speak about the progression that I wanted because I do not have the players that I want. The team needs the players to progress collectively, tactically, dynamically. We need the players, we don’t have the players. Hugo Lloris, Moussa Sissoko and then Harry Kane [out injured]. OK, just for today, but also Steven Bergwijn, Giovani Lo Celso and Erik Lamela.
It’s very difficult to progress when one game you have players A, B and C out and then the next you have players D, E and F out. It’s a very difficult season – very difficult.
Do we progress from a mental point of view? Yes. Do we progress from a competitive point of view? Yes. Do we improve by the compactness of the team? Yes. Do we improve in a progressive, constant way from a tactical point of view? No.
It’s more like we build a team to give us a chance of winning the next match. It’s game-after-game, what do we have? That’s what we’re doing, and the players have been magnificent.
Hasenhuttl allays fears over Ward-Prowse injury
Southampton will be wondering what happened as they had been by far the better side, yet collapsed after going in front, and they are now left to focus on pushing for a Europa League place in the Premier League.
Saints boss Ralph Hasenhuttl admitted Mourinho’s glowing reference of his team was of little consolation.
It’s nice that he praises us, but it doesn’t help me, the Austrian said. Not every game of football is about being the better team, it is about being the winning team. And we’re not.
It is easy for him to praise us. They were more clinical because in the last 15 minutes they turned the table in the way that is part of a good team. We couldn’t defend how we wanted to because this is very disappointing for me. Being strong for 75 minutes is not enough.
James Ward-Prowse was carried off on a stretcher after suffering a suspected knee injury in the first half of Wednesday’s replay following a collision with Ryan Sessegnon.
But Hasenhuttl is confident the injury is not serious, adding: I think it is not that bad, I think it is only a cut on the knee. That is a positive message for me.
Tottenham embark on their mid-season winter break before returning to Premier League action at Aston Villa on Sunday February 16, live on Sky Sports, at 2pm.
Southampton also enjoy a pause before resuming their league campaign at home to Burnley on Saturday, February 15; Kick-off at 12.30pm.