London (AFP) – Tottenham’s alarming loss of form threatens to take the gloss off the long-anticipated opening of their flashy new stadium as they contemplate a season without Champions League football.
Mauricio Pochettino’s side stayed in touch with Liverpool and Manchester City for two-thirds of the season — as recently as February 2, Spurs were in second place in the Premier League.
But they are now 16 points adrift of City and 18 behind Liverpool and a single point separates them from Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea in the race for the final two Champions League qualification spots.
“It’s a little bit of a shame that we’re not there fighting as well,” admitted Pochettino after Tottenham’s defeat at Liverpool on Sunday, courtesy of an own goal from Toby Alderweireld.
“We were but in the last few weeks we have started to find our reality, our place.”
Despite their recent run of bad results, Spurs under Pochettino have punched above their weight, without a single signing in the past 15 months and a wage bill that amounts to a fraction of their top-six rivals.
Pochettino was keen to stress that point, calling his players “heroes” for coping with the demands of a stretched squad, which has had to cope with the impact of fatigue on eight World Cup semi-finalists, and the disruption of playing at Wembley while waiting for their new stadium to be ready.
“When someone wants to give an opinion about the team or the club, always you need to put in the circumstances. Not only to judge Tottenham because you see them play or their position in the table,” added Pochettino.
“After nearly two years of playing at Wembley. Moving from one stadium to another, now moving again. I think my players are heroes and deserve a lot of credit.”
Spurs will finally play their first match at their new 62,000-capacity ground against Crystal Palace on Wednesday.
– Champions League riches –
They are into the Champions League quarter-finals for just the third time in their history, where they will face Manchester City, with the new stadium designed to solidify their position among Europe’s elite and ensure they can compete financially in the future.
Much of that, though, depends on the revenue from the Champions League football they have become used to under Pochettino.
Despite a fourth defeat in five Premier League games, there were also green shoots of recovery for the Argentine to hold onto at Anfield.
But for Moussa Sissoko’s glaring miss five minutes from time and Hugo Lloris’s latest calamitous error in goal, Spurs should have become the first side to beat Liverpool on home soil for nearly two years in the Premier League.
Tottenham’s position in the battle for a top-four finish is now a precarious one. They could even find themselves down in fifth place by kick-off on Wednesday should Arsenal and Manchester United both avoid defeat in their games before then.
However, five of their remaining seven Premier League games will be at their new home and against meek opposition in Huddersfield, Brighton, West Ham and Everton after Palace’s visit.
“We need to forget everything and be focused that we have ahead a mini-league that starts on Wednesday in our new stadium and that must be a big boost for everyone,” added Pochettino.
“It’s in our hands to be in the top four.”
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