by LIAM RICHNER
A confession: I like Mauricio Pochettino. I cannot fault his managerial approach to the game. His philosophy is exciting and attack-minded. However, elimination from the Champions League last night confirmed what some would have denied pre-match: these are worrying times for Tottenham.
Ever since that draw at home to West Brom back in April, a draw which some suggest gave up any hope of Spurs lifting the title ahead of eventual winners Leicester City, Pochettino’s side haven’t really got back into fifth gear.
They let slip a two-goal lead at Chelsea to draw one of the fieriest games in Premier League history, before relegated Newcastle thumped them on the last day of last season 5-1.
Rewind the clocks 12 months, and Spurs were one of the most exciting teams in Europe. With their free-flowing attacking style, the likes of Delle Ali, Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen, Son-Heung Min and Harry Kane lit up White Hart Lane and the rest of the Premier League. As a result, they qualified for the Champions League for the first time since 2010/11.
In August, they were drawn against CSKA Moscow, Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco in group E. Compared to other groups, this was a plum draw for Tottenham. Or so we thought.
Defeat to Monaco at Wembley on matchday one was never written in the script, but Spurs quickly made amends with victory in Russia over CSKA.
A hard-fought 0-0 draw in Leverkusen seemed a good point at the time, but a 1-0 defeat to the German side three weeks ago put Spurs in a nervous position ahead of their trip to Monte Carlo.
With CSKA and Leverkusen drawing in Moscow, Pochettino’s side knew a defeat would see them out of the competition.
As it turned out, Tottenham were totally outclassed once again by Monaco.
Djibril Sidibe’s header gave the hosts the lead on 53 minutes, before Harry Kane equalised with a penalty.
Just 53 seconds after Tottenham were level, Monaco retook the lead through Thomas Lemar’s drilled shot.
Despite Hugo Lloris saving a Radamel Falcao penalty in the first half, there was not much for Spurs fans to cheer about.
Monaco could have easily scored three or four this evening, with themselves and Leverkusen now progressing to the last 16.
It isn’t a surprise though. Let’s not forget Tottenham are also out of the EFL Cup and performances domestically have not been of a good enough standard recently. It’s surprising that they are still unbeaten in the league.
Yes, they are fifth. Yes, they have good quality players, and yes they have shown good character to get back into games, but their luck will run out eventually if they carry on playing the way they are and will fall down the table rather than rise up.
West Ham last weekend was a prime example. Spurs were outplayed by the Hammers right up until the final few minutes. Had it not been for Slaven Bilic’s side not taking their chances the game could have been dead and buried with twenty minutes to go. Instead, a bit of luck led to Harry Kane equalising, before the Englishman turned it around with a penalty in stoppage time.
Apart from their 2-0 win over Manchester City at the start of October, it’s difficult to remember a performance from Tottenham that has had everyone talking for the right reasons. Yes they are unbeaten, but they have only won half of their games so far this season (P12 W6 D6). They are currently four points off the top with a smaller goal difference than all the teams currently above them.
Like I said before, I like Pochettino. I don’t think all the blame can be put on his shoulders for the recent half-hearted performances.
Recruitment over the summer seemingly to took a backwards step. Vincent Jansson, a £17m purchase from AZ Alkmaar has struggled to adapt to the Premier League. Moussa Sissoko has failed to find that spark that lit up the Euro 2016 final back in June since he joined from Newcastle for £30m.
Is their more pressure on Spurs this season? Absolutely. Many will be expecting them to repeat the tricks of last season and challenge again for the title, despite a resurgent Chelsea and goal-friendly Liverpool joining the mix. Alongside Guardiola’s Man City and arch-rivals Arsenal, it’s going to be a lot tougher than last season, but Spurs have the players capable to match their title opponents.
Others have even come out and stated they want Spurs to win a trophy this season. It’s been almost nine years since they won what was then the Capital One Cup, so it’s about time they dusted off the cobwebs in the White Hart Lane trophy cabinet.
But for now, Spurs must focus on finding that winning formula again and get a run together of consecutive wins to get the ball rolling. They have a huge match against league leaders Chelsea, who are carrying a lot of momentum with them at the moment, this weekend.
They then face a crucial match against CSKA at Wembley in their final game in the Champions League this season. They must avoid defeat to remain in Europe but the question is: Do Spurs fans want another bite at the cherry in the Europa League?