The scoreline may not have been quite as emphatic, but there is a strong argument that Saturday’s 3-0 loss to Brighton and Hove Albion was more damaging for Tottenham Hotspur and Mauricio Pochettino than the 7-2 demolition by Bayern Munich a few days earlier.
Spurs were actually the better team in the opening 30 minutes against the Bundesliga champions, and they could count themselves a little unfortunate to go into half-time trailing. Bayern deserved all three points in the Champions League group stage clash, but they certainly were not five goals better than their hosts, with Niko Kovac’s side able to register such an eye-catching result largely thanks to their clinical finishing in and around the penalty area.
Pochettino will have been concerned with the manner of his team’s collapse in the closing stages last Tuesday, and the Tottenham boss would have been looking for a reaction when his team travelled to the south coast at the weekend. What followed was a dismal performance from the visitors to the Amex Stadium, who were out of the game by half-time and left to contemplate yet another fruitless away trip in the Premier League.
Spurs have not tasted victory on the road in the top flight since January 20, a damning statistic for a side who were hoping to push Liverpool and Manchester City closer this season. They have already lost five times in all competitions since August, and an early elimination from the EFL Cup limits their opportunity to win a trophy in 2019/20. They may have been in the Champions League final just a few short months ago, but this is undoubtedly Tottenham’s lowest ebb since Mauricio Pochettino took charge of the club in 2014.
There is evidence, however, that the Argentinian saw this coming. Pochettino called for the squad to be renewed in the summer, and although Giovani Lo Celso, Tanguy Ndombele and Ryan Sessegnon were all added to his playing staff, Kieran Trippier was the only first-teamer to depart. There are certainly positives to the retention of Christian Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, but the fact that all three men are out of contract next June has not helped in the early weeks of the campaign.
More worrying for Pochettino is the fact that the current team has not demonstrated the characteristics most associated with the former Southampton head coach so far this season. At their best in recent years, Tottenham have been a high-intensity team full of hard running and heavy pressing. They routinely used to overwhelm their opponents and proved far too physically strong for several Premier League teams, with vim and vigour combined with an astute tactical setup and technical quality.
None of those qualities were in evidence at the Amex Stadium on Saturday. Spurs were lifeless without the ball and lacking ideas with it. There were isolated moments of spark produced by individual players, but little in the way of coherent, collective football. Put simply, the north Londoners were outclassed by a team who were without a win in the Premier League since the opening weekend.
Yet for all their current shortcomings, it would be a major mistake for Tottenham to sack Pochettino, the best manager they have had for decades. The 47-year-old has earned the right to attempt to turn things around, having established Spurs as regular top-four finishers during his time at the helm. Pochettino is one of the brightest coaches in Europe and there is no guarantee that Tottenham’s problems would be solved by dispensing of him.
“No I am not worried, what worries me is life, not football,” Pochettino said after the Brighton loss. “I don’t want you to take it the wrong way, what scares me is life, not football.
“Football is a game that sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. The problem for us – it was win, win, win and it was praise for everyone.
“Now in the last two games it was a tough situation to accept. But I don’t want to be a philosopher or talk in a way that is not good.
“What scares me is life, not football. Football is to be strong and be brave and take decisions and to show your face when things are not good.”
Pochettino knows that Tottenham cannot continue in this way, but the club must show patience and afford him the time required to get things back on track.