Tottenham Hotspur are licking their wounds from the 7-2 drubbing they received at the hands of Bayern Munich Tuesday night in north London. An already tense situation about the start of the season, which has seen just two clean sheets and some dreadful performances against Newcastle United and Colchester United, has been turned up to 11 thanks to this high profile defeat.
There have been whispers of discontent behind the scenes that the media have caught wind of, but those whispers have turned into full on conversations that are getting louder with each passing day. ESPN Tottenham correspondent Julien Laurens published a piece this morning that talks about the rising tensions. None of it is good.
Sources have told ESPN FC that tension are high between senior players in the squad, which has been together for about five years. For some of them, there was only one place to go after reaching the Champions League final last season: down. Others wanted out. Christian Eriksen, for example, failed to orchestrate a move out of the club, while other players have expressed frustration behind the scenes that Spurs didn’t sign enough players this summer, with only Tanguy Ndombele, Ryan Sessegnon and Giovanni Lo Celso arriving in north London. Sessegnon has been injured since joining, while Lo Celso has played just 44 minutes in all competitions so far.
Given the cost of the players purchased, I understand why the club only bought four players (Jack Clarke was loaned back to Leeds United, of course) and stood firm. This problem stems from the prior summer when the club didn’t purchase a single player. Yes, that’s a broken record but that doesn’t make it any less true. We’re also fully aware of Christian Eriksen’s “new challenge” comments and his failure to secure a transfer out while Toby Alderweireld is probably still surprised that nobody activated his release clause.
Spurs have a couple of glaring holes that are clear problems. First, the right fullback situation has been largely a disaster that can be summed up as “Serge Aurier is bad” given his last two outings. I still long for a universe where Daniel Levy coughs up the money to activate Ricardo Pereira’s release clause and he’s a steady fixture for Tottenham.
Secondly, the midfield is still a mess. I could probably write 3,000 words alone on this issue with various ways to break it down, but it’s not worth it at this point. We all know it’s a problem and it’s up to the club to figure out how to fix it.
The players are also questioning their manager’s tactics, adding to the tensions. Sources have told ESPN FC that some senior players are not happy with the tactical systems, starting with the diamond midfield 4-3-1-2, recently used by Pochettino. It enables Son Heung Min and Harry Kane to play together up front but the midfield is more exposed, as are the flanks, and Spurs have only kept two clean sheets this season (against Crystal Palace and Colchester) in 10 matches in all competitions.
Then there is the flat 4-4-2, also used this season, which left Tottenham too weak in central midfield, as we saw against Arsenal. Against Bayern, Pochettino started with a 4-3-1-2 and then moved to a 4-4-2 after 30 minutes when his team started to struggle. Neither worked. “We get tired too quickly physically when we play with a diamond midfield,” Moussa Sissoko admitted on French TV channel RMC Sport on Tuesday night.
Moussa Sissoko going on record to talk about this is rather telling. It’s the most bang-on piece of evidence we have that these rumors have truth to them: Tactically, the players and manager are not on the same page. The formation and tactics have been frustrating for everyone it seems, but there hasn’t been much in the terms of moving away from these tactics.
The players also don’t understand why Pochettino has told them to dial back the pressing, a tactic that was a success last season.
This might be the most frustrating thing for me. For 30+ minutes last night, Spurs pressed. Of course, it worked! Bayern couldn’t get out of their end much (save for that first worldie) and Spurs were controlling the match.
Then the pressing stopped. The formation changed. And things went to hell in a hand-basket rapidly.
Some of the manager’s team selections have not paid off. Dele Alli was picked ahead of Christian Eriksen against Bayern, and also against Olympiakos, but was poor in both encounters. The decision to leave Son on the bench for 73 minutes against the Greeks was also hard to understand.
But not everything so far this season is Pochettino’s fault.
The players have to take some of the blame and Sissoko lamented after Tuesday’s disaster: “We gave up too quickly tonight.” But are the tensions in the squad adversely affecting the team on the pitch?
Sometimes selections work and sometimes they fail, but there are questions that need to be answered because selections have been a bit worrisome at times. Also, I thought Dele was pretty good and looked close to the Dele of old last night. The players are taking blame when they feel the need to like Sissoko mentions. Ben Davies also apologized on behalf of everyone to the supporters for their terrible performance against Colchester.
Circling back to the beginning of the article, this happened last night as well:
One by one, the Tottenham players left their brand new stadium late on Tuesday night after the embarrassment of their 7-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Groggy and shocked by what had happened to them a few hours earlier, they had stayed in the dressing room for a long time after the final whistle, sitting in quiet contemplation, not really realising what had hit them.
Reports are that Pochettino gave them the silent treatment after the match and the players had their own inquest of sorts last night. We don’t know what actually happened, but they were there for a long period of time after the match had finished. Pochettino will surely have his own talk with the players (or already had it) today at Hotspur Way.
Adding all of this up leads to the wild speculation that has dominated various outlets. We don’t know what the endgame is to all of this and anything said would be pure speculation. There’s also the fact that Kieran Trippier made a comment about behind-the-scenes issues at the end of the season which he cited as a part of his reasoning to move on.
It’s clear there are problems. The only silver lining to this is that they are coming to a head only seven matches into the Premier League season and not popping up in February or March. There is plenty of time to right the ship and get back on course. The ultimate question is how?