London (AFP) – Tottenham’s miserable start to the season shows little sign of improving quickly, but prior to Red Star Belgrade’s visit on Tuesday, Spurs can take some solace from the fact they are in a better position in the Champions League than they were 12 months ago.
Defeats to Inter Milan and Barcelona saw them travel to PSV Eindhoven for what manager Mauricio Pochettino described as a “must-win”. After a 2-2 draw in the Netherlands, Pochettino admitted his side’s Champions League campaign was “nearly over.”
Yet, eight months later, the Argentine had led Tottenham to their first ever Champions League final.
The hangover from defeat to Liverpool in that final in Madrid has been long and sobering. Spurs have won just three of their opening 12 games in all competitions this season.
Chances of a first trophy under Pochettino in the League Cup have already gone after an embarrassing exit on penalties to fourth-tier Colchester and they are already five points off the pace just for a place in the Premier League’s top four.
However, Pochettino admitted that the most damaging defeat of all came last time out in the Champions League, when Bayern Munich ran riot in the second-half to leave London 7-2 winners.
“After Bayern Munich our confidence was on the floor,” said Pochettino after a 1-1 draw at home to the Premier League’s bottom club Watford on Saturday.
The heaviest defeat ever suffered at home by an English side in European competition may have had a lasting effect, but it is not terminal to Tottenham’s chances of again pulling themselves off the canvas and into the Champions League last 16.
Beat the Serbian champions at home on Tuesday and they will move into second place in Group B, as long as Olympiakos don’t shock Bayern in Greece.
– Spent force? –
Doubt has been cast over Pochettino’s capability to rouse another response from largely the same group of players into his sixth season in charge.
He certainly does not have troubles to seek. Captain Hugo Lloris is sidelined until 2020 leaving substitute goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga to hold the fort at the back.
Centre-back pairing Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld look to heading towards the end of their Tottenham careers with both the Belgians’ contracts expiring at the end of the season.
Christian Eriksen has also been in and out of the team with the Dane also likely to leave next summer if not before in January.
New signings Ryan Sessegnon and Giovani lo Celso are not yet close to a return to first-team action after lengthy injury layoffs and club record buy Tanguy Ndombele was left on the bench for the visit of Watford after an inconsistent start to his Spurs career.
However, Pochettino was encouraged by his side’s response in the second half against the Hornets as they fought back from 1-0 down to level thanks to Dele Alli’s first goal since January.
“It was so important in the way that we achieved the point in the end, the team was fighting, we showed character,” said Pochettino.
“We have quality but when you are in this type of situation the most important thing is the character you need to show.
“Talent is after, you need to fight and you need to run and you need to be strong in your mind, the effort is double.
“When everything is good you fly, when everything is going against you need to be so strong and you spend a lot of energy.”
Red Star’s visit will give another indication as to whether Pochettino’s men have the energy to rise again or really are a spent force.