Spurs may have reached the Champions League final last season but their domestic results suggest a club suffering from a general malaise
Tottenham, in all honesty, limped to the Champions League final, the rot having set in long before that. Sure, there were moments of drama and of individual brilliance. But on the other hand there were moments of sheer, outright fortune.
Lucas Moura’s hat-trick in Amsterdam stands out, as does Raheem Sterling’s disallowed goal in the quarter-finals against Manchester City. On the balance of things, they probably didn’t deserve to get to the final.
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They conceded 19 goals in all throughout the European campaign. They have now lost three of their last four matches in the competition.
When they got to Madrid there was a necessity for Spurs to recognise just how handy a reprieve they had been given in each of the previous two rounds. There could be no more poor defending, no more errors.
There was a call for a proper, joined-up performance the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the last 16 when they easily swatted Borussia Dortmund aside. That didn’t come.
The opportunity was not only squandered, there was regret in all quarters because Spurs had simply failed to compete. They got so far in Europe because knockout ties can be decided by the bounce of a ball, an offside call this way or that.
In the league, too, they have been bad, and there it’s harder to hide.
Spurs did enough good work in the first part of last season to maintain competitiveness for the top four and Champions League qualification but their place among the elite had as much to do with weekend opponents Arsenal losing momentum as it did with Spurs holding them off.
They limped over the line and they continue to limp.
Across the latter part of last season and stretching into this one, Spurs have taken 15 points from their last 15 Premier League matches. That is relegation form, with only Watford and Brighton performing worse.
They have lost eight of those, not only to teams in the top six, but to Burnley, Southampton, West Ham, Bournemouth and Newcastle. Their only convincing win in that sequence came at home against Huddersfield, when they won 4-0. That is, arguably, the last time Spurs played well as a team.
Their best result this season – a 2-2 draw against Manchester City – was as unjust a result as you’re ever likely to see, with City having 30 shots on goal in contrast to the two that Spurs had. They scored with both.
It has been a remarkable drop-off, which began with that defeat in Burnley last February. That was the day Harry Kane made his return to the side after injury but it would be absurd to lay the blame at the captain’s feet.
Rather, there is a sense that the spark is gone at Tottenham. Granted they have dealing with injuries to important players, but it was scarcely different when they were fit.
As the season drew to a close, Spurs fans consoled themselves that some of the deadwood on the books would be shifted off and the squad replenished. Kieran Tripper, Vincent Jansson, Georges-Kevin Nkoudou and Fernando Llorente have gone, with Victor Wanyama likely to join them before the end of the European transfer window.
In their place have come Tanguy Ndombele, Ryan Sessegnon and Giovani Lo Celso. Only Ndombele has made an impact so far with Sessegnon injured and Lo Celso being held back for now. It has not quite been the off-season or renewal many were expecting, with the same old issues plaguing the side.
Furthermore, Pochettino and chairman Daniel Levy have been lax in allowing the contracts of Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Christian Eriksen to run down. The Belgian pair have been Spurs’ most effective defenders over the last few years but it’s been clear for some time that there has been a rupture in their relationships with the manager.
Vertonghen’s recent demotion to the bench is evidence of that, while Alderweireld has had to deal with long spells out of the side too.
Eriksen is clearly unsettled, as evidenced by his public declaration to pursue an exit following the Champions League final. Like Paul Pogba at Manchester United, he has little choice but to get his head down for now.
That situation has taken its toll on Pochettino, who not only has lamented the shortening of the English transfer window when compared with Europe but has also dropped his playmaker.
Presumably, he had intended Lo Celso to take up Eriksen’s starting place in the team in the eventuality of the Dane moving to Real Madrid or elsewhere.
For now, everyone involved in that situation is in a kind of limbo.
Pochettino himself was in a kind of limbo too over the summer. All the indications before the Champions League final pointed to the Argentine taking his leave. He spoke bizarrely on more than one occasion about leaving Spurs whatever happened in Madrid. That message was entirely inconsistent with how he dealt with the press previously.
The contractual issues with his senior players and his lack of summer and winter transfer activity during the 2018-19 season were all taken as clues that he might well be winding down. No doubt he would have found a decent job over the summer but for whatever reason he’s stayed put.
And now his task could be more difficult than ever. He’s got to pick it up again.
Even if Arsenal were demolished last week at Anfield, they will be looking towards this upcoming North London Derby as a genuine opportunity to put Spurs away.
They started the season with two good wins before running into the brick wall at Liverpool. There is already a settled look about Arsenal, with new signings integrating well, and a purposefulness about them up front.
Spurs are struggling for rhythm, meanwhile. If there is anything left in the tank for Pochettino, then he would do well to find it on Sunday.