Guillem Balague will be writing a regular column throughout the season and also appearing every Thursday on BBC Radio 5 live’s Football Daily podcast, when the focus will be on European football.
You can download the latest Football Daily podcast here.
Having suffered three defeats in a row for the first time since he joined Tottenham Hotspur, manager Mauricio Pochettino is in unfamiliar territory.
More worrying, perhaps, is the fact they have been three totally different types of losses, all coming on the back of dismantling Manchester United 3-0 in their own back yard.
After a summer in which they were the only club in Europe’s top five leagues not to sign a player, it adds up to a frustrating situation for the Argentine.
‘Any other manager would have left’
Following Tuesday’s Champions League defeat by Inter Milan – the third of those back-to-back losses – Pochettino immediately berated the media for asking why Kieran Trippier and Toby Alderweireld had not been selected.
The incident showed us Pochettino’s line that he will always take in publicly defending his players – in this instance Davinson Sanchez, Ben Davies and Serge Aurier.
But all in all, it could prove to be a long and arduous campaign for Spurs and a top-four finish will be nothing less than a miracle.
If I was Pochettino, I would be very frustrated with my current situation, having signed a new five-year contract in May.
But after doing that and by giving Spurs another opportunity to put their faith in him right now – and vice versa – nobody owes anybody anything any more.
Any other manager would probably have left already, and I know there are other bosses out there who have asked Pochettino why he is still there.
It feels this season, like no other before it, will be a reality check and tangible evidence of just how far above their weight this Tottenham Hotspur side have punched up until now.
So what’s going on with Spurs?
The victory at Manchester United that had much of the media singing the praises of Pochettino’s Spurs was always taken with a very large pinch of salt by the coach himself – as indeed he takes most positive results.
“We need to be realistic but want to keep pushing and building our fitness,” he said after that match, keen to strike a note of caution. “A lot of our players have only had three weeks’ training.”
He, more than anyone, knew that the Manchester United game flattered his side and he saw potential problems that became even more evident against Watford six days later. Having taken the lead at Vicarage Road, their inability to finish the job cost them dear. “Maybe you cannot play so well but you need to win this type of game if you want to be a contender at the end,” he said after the 2-1 loss.
Against Liverpool on Saturday there was never any danger of underestimating their opponents. However, Spurs were never really at the races, despite a late strike and the denial of a penalty following a clip on Son Heung-min in the last minute.
And then came perhaps the most frustrating reversal of them all against Inter in their first Champions League group match, another example of Spurs’ inability to administer the coup de grace. The fact Spurs were unquestionably better than Inter – who only really played for the last 10 minutes – will be no consolation.
Unfazed by Real Madrid summer link
The day before Pochettino and I presented the Spanish version of Brave New World – the book about his time at Spurs that we worked on for a year and a half – Zinedine Zidane resigned as Real Madrid manager.
Pochettino was the Spanish club’s first-choice replacement, but that relied on Real president Florentino Perez being able to convince Spurs chairman Daniel Levy to let him go. And it would need Pochettino to agree.
I suggested to him that we should consider the type of event that was going to take place, with public and journalists invited. I had organised some promotional interviews, so what should we do with them?
“Go with the flow,” was his answer. Let things happen naturally.
The event was a success. He did all the interviews that were requested and more, and we were in all the news bulletins that day. Twenty-four hours later Real Madrid, convinced Levy was not going to negotiate, decided to opt for Julen Lopetegui.
That taught me two more things about Pochettino – he is convinced there are bigger forces at play that we cannot fight, and he always sees the positive. He is doing that right now, going about his business with the same approach, determination and time-consuming analysis.
A lack of signings
You would struggle to find a manager in the country who does not want to continually refresh and re-invigorate their line-up on an annual basis, probably to the tune of 25% of their squad. Pochettino is unlikely to be any different.
The reasons for that are simple. New faces are brought in to aid the evolution of the side. They bring new challenges to everyone, including the manager.
In the last window not a single player was signed, which means Pochettino will have to make do with what he has until January at least.
Presumably, that new contract he signed in May came on the back of certain assurances being made by the club. But from where I am looking, none have been forthcoming; nothing has happened.
That is because sometimes it is difficult for a club to make decisions and sometimes players just don’t want to leave.
According to agents who know the market extremely well, there was only one offer for Mousa Dembele (from Inter) and he decided not to go, and also there were no takers for Alderweireld or Danny Rose, who wanted to play for teams of the same level or superior to Spurs.
The lack of a renewed energy in the form of new faces, coupled with injuries this season to the likes of Hugo Lloris and Dele Alli, hasn’t helped either, and it is worth noting that half of the starting XI arrived just four days before the start of the new campaign.
And you can add to that the fact Spurs still have not got the keys to their new home, a source of external motivation last season.
It has been a difficult start to the season but, in fairness to Pochettino, he has not complained about anything, or criticised anyone from the club.
Is Kane to blame?
With just 22 touches against Liverpool and no shots on target against Inter, Harry Kane showed us once again how quickly a player can go from hero to zero. Or did he?
Last season, Kane was scoring for fun, with 52 goals in 59 games for club and country. His goal “drought” is only three games and by no means the only dry spell the striker has endured. To blame him is a convenient, though over-simplistic, analysis of Spurs’ current blip.
What I see is a team failing to create enough chances and the striker will always suffer as a result. Is he tired? Almost certainly, and even England manager Gareth Southgate has suggested as much.
He hasn’t rested anything like enough to retain his sharpness. And do not forget he has a newborn baby! You need five weeks off in the summer at least and four of them dedicated to starting training – even at home on your own – a kind of pre, pre-season training.
All Kane had was 20 days. So did other players who went far at the World Cup in Russia and many of those have also suffered accordingly. I’m talking about the likes of Luka Modric, Luis Suarez, Antoine Griezmann and more.
But there is a fundamental difference. They are players in teams surrounded by top stars who hide any difficulties, any signs they might be suffering as they gradually re-establish their form and recharge their batteries.
They need less effort to win games, while at Spurs the effort is massive simply because the level of talent is lower.
Kane’s way of handling it is to play through it in the hope his form will return. But he is suffering basically because the team are just not creating anything like enough chances.
In their past three defeats, Tottenham have had just 11 shots on target in total – the same they managed in a 3-1 win against Fulham in August. Kane had just one effort on target in the three losses.
Eventually you begin to wonder if actually Spurs are more of a perception than a reality. Are they as good as people have made them out to be? Because if they are, then we are now at the stage where we should be seeing more evidence of their prowess.
Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/45589555