Tottenham’s Champions League campaign has got off to a poor start, but you don’t have to look very far back into the club’s history for an example of how quickly things can turn round.
Spurs have let a two goal lead slip away at Olympiakos, drawing 2-2 in their opening game in Group B. Worse was to come in the second match at home to Bayern Munich, with the German title holders winning by an embarrassing scoreline of 7-2.
Yet as bad as those results were, Tottenham find themselves with more points in the Champions League group stage than they did after two games last season. Spurs were defeated away at Inter and at home to Barcelona in their opening two matches in 2018-19. Even in their third match, away at PSV, they could only draw, leaving the team with just one point.
Tottenham then claimed seven points from their remaining three matches, to finish second in the group and make the last-16. Late goals were scored in all of these games, to prevent Spurs crashing out and it’s fair to say that these last-gasp escapes contributed to the run to the final of the competition, with Mauricio Pochettino’s side refusing to give in and accept that they were beaten, having already defied the odds on a number of occasions.
So as poor as this start has been, it’s clear that Tottenham can and should still qualify for the knockout stages of the competition. The time has definitely come to start winning games though and the back-to-back home and away fixtures against Red Star Belgrade certainly provide the opportunity to do just that.
It’s not just in the Champions League that Spurs have disappointed this season. They were knocked out of the EFL Cup by Colchester United on penalties and have already lost to Newcastle, Leicester and Brighton in the Premier League. So though there is still opportunity in the Champions League, it remains to be seen as to whether the team are in a position to take it.
Pochettino finds himself under a great deal of pressure. The run to the Champions League final, saw a fatigued and injury ravaged squad struggle to maintain their domestic form. When you add the poor start to this season, the statistics don’t make for good reading, even if the truth of the situation is more nuanced than the stark facts. In the last 30 games, Spurs have lost 14 times, drawing seven and winning just nine times.
With a number of senior players likely to leave within the next year, the team has looked disinterested at times. Pochettino was expected to pick a new look side against Watford at the weekend, but instead picked a familiar team which scraped a 1-1 draw with the Premier League’s bottom club. They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, while expecting a different result and Pochettino has been guilty of this behaviour this season.
Will he finally ring the changes against Red Star Belgrade and pick the players that are committed to the club and still hungry? With players of the quality of Juan Foyth, Ben Davies, Eric Dier, Tanguy Ndombele, Erik Lamela and Heung-Min Son all on the bench against Watford, there is certainly potential for a much changed side. That’s not to mention new signings such as Ryan Sessegnon and Giovani Lo Celso, who have been struggling with injury, but are now back in training.
If results continue to be so poor, then Pochettino could find himself out of a job, despite the success he’s made of his time at the club. Now is not the time to be cautious. He was ruthless in getting rid of the players who would or could not perform for him when he first arrived at Spurs and he must now be equally tough with those that are past their best.