Tottenham Hotspur’s much vaunted Champions League campaign finished with a whimper last night as they flopped to a 2-1 defeat at Monaco. James Dickens looks at the fallout.
Spurs have been trying to get back into the Champions League ever since they were beaten 5-0 on aggregate by Real Madrid in the 2011 quarter-finals. That was the club’s first appearence in the competition under it’s new guise and it’s fair to say they made the most of it. Beating both Milan clubs, the rise of Gareth Bale and emergence on an continental stage of the magician Luka Modric. They thrilled neutrals and went for goals with total commitment.
Come 2016 and Spurs were back in the competition and they certainly haven’t met the expectations of their previous outing with a feeble and weak exist. Here are 5 things we have learned.
Pochettino and his young squad were out of their depth.
This may seem harsh but given their performances there can be no other conclusion to be drawn. In retrospect, it was easy to see it coming.
Last season Spurs played Borussia Dortmund in a Europa League game which was Champions League in all but name. The north London club were taken to school by the German outfit losing 3-0 in Dortmund and 2-1 at White Hart Lane. Pochettino was out thought by Thomas Tuchel and Spurs were beaten at their own game. Dortmund pressed high, gave Spurs’ central defenders no time on the ball and the lilywhites folded.
If that sounds familiar, then it’s no wonder. The same has happened in every single Champions League game this season. They were lucky to nick a win from a close game in Moscow but at Wembley, Monaco and Leverkusen were much the better teams and in truth should have won by more than one goal.
They have struggled to score, notching three goals in five games. Make no mistake, this group is far from the cream of Europe’s elite. It’s not as weak as Leicester’s group, but there are no Bayern, Real Madrid or Barcelona to contend with and Spurs were completely out gunned.
After last night’s defeat, Hugo Lloris commented the following;
“We’re a young team. I think we had a problem to handle two big competitions like the Premier League and the Champions League, particularly in terms of intensity.
“We’re going to have to learn from that and continue to battle in the league to try to get back into the Champions League.
“We have a little problem in preparation and the way in which we approach big European games. We struggle to meet the demands of the Champions League.
“We can see we’re inferior to teams like Monaco, like Bayer Leverkusen, who are very well organised, determined, aggressive and who run and then run again.
It is clear that what Lloris says cannot be contested. He is really the only Spurs player who can hold his head up high after this season’s aberration and he raised a valuable point. We will come to the squad construction and the reason for rotation later but that facts are that outside the first 15 or so players, there is a massive drop off in quality.
— The Spurs Web ⚽️ (@thespursweb) November 22, 2016
Kyle Walker has played only two of the five Champions League games this season and while Kieran Trippier is a functional Premier League player, he is massively out of his depth in the Champions League. The same can be said for squad players like Kevin Wimmer, Eric Dier (as a central defender) Moussa Sissoko and Ben Davies. When you combine that with players who haven’t played well all season (Janssen, Eriksen) those on their way back from injuries (Alli, Kane, Dembele) and those currently injured (Alderwiereld and Lamela) it makes for grim reading. When you then rotate further by resting Walker and Vertonghen in a crunch game at the highest level. You are asking for trouble, and trouble is what Spurs got.
If very easy to blame Wembley, so that is what I’m going to do. The players are not used to playing there and Spurs have surrendered all home advantage. Not just that, but they have actually given a boost to teams like Monaco and Leverkusen whose players dream of playing at the most famous stadium in the world and want to do well when they do.
In addtion, Spurs fans don’t seen to like it and the atmosphere is poor. It’s a stadium build for showpiece occasions and not as an intimidating venue to host Champions League games.
If anyone hates their wife, in-laws or kids enough I have a spare ticket to see Spurs play Moscow at Wembley on a cold wet December night
— Brinley Clark (@BrinleyClark) November 22, 2016
Players get used to a stadium. There are subconscious visual triggers which come with time. Posts, advertising boards, even fans who are their every week which give players an instinctive idea about where they are on the pitch and if they should shoot, pass or press the ball. This is an advantage which Spurs didn’t have and it cost them. The move to Wembley was unavoidable but has been a big hindrance.
If you look at Spurs’ transfers into the club under Mauricio Pochettino, it’s hard not to be a touch concerned.
There are those he has worked with before who have done well such as Toby Alderweireld and Victor Wanyama
Hard to know who responsible for #thfc signings but Sissoko doesn't strike me as a Levy deal. Him, Janssen, Nkoudou yet to improve squad
— Matt Law (@Matt_Law_DT) November 23, 2016
But there are those who have been sourced by the transfer committee (and how that works is up for debate) which are a very mixed bag. They are as follows Federico Fazio, Benjamin Stambouli, De Andre Yedlin, Michel Vorm, Clinton Njie, Kieran Trippier, Hueng Min-Son, Ben Davies, Kevin Wimmer, Eric Dier and Dele Alli, Vincent Janssen, Moussa Sissoko and George Kevin N’Koudou.
Of those, only really Alli and Dier can be considered a success. Four are no longer at the club, Vorm, Trippier, Davies and Wimmer are functional back-up’s but not up to taking a position in the Champions League team, as we have seen. Son has been up and down but he has shown signs he could be a good player for the club long term.
Not a sign for panic, but concern? Certainly
This is a touch speculative which is why I’ve put it last. I question what goals Mauricio Pochettino has been given by Daniel Levy. You would expect Spurs to go for it while they are in the Champions League, but is this in the best interests of the clubs long term vision?
I can well imagine Levy asking Pochettino to make sure that Spurs get in the Champions League every year. That is where the money is and that is what they need to build a new stadium which has rising costs caused by brexit. Maybe Levy suggested that the Argentine focuses on the league rather than spending time on the cups. The team selection would back that up.
Keep qualifying, until the stadium is built then go for it then. Just an idea.