Crisis? What crisis? Spurs regain winning belief
Is the great Tottenham Hotspur crisis of autumn 2018 over already?
That is certainly how it felt at the Amex Stadium on Saturday night as Spurs hung on to beat Brighton 2-1. One of the stories of the season so far - Spurs' three straight defeats - had been cut short. They would not reach four losses in a row, something they last did in 2004 under the caretaker management of David Pleat.
It only takes one win to transform the external perception and narrative surrounding a club. Suddenly, the Carabao Cup trip to Milton Keynes to face Watford feels like a curiosity and a chore, but nothing more drastic or important than that. Huddersfield away and Cardiff City at home should be six more Premier League points, with a delicious visit from Barcelona in between the two.
And Tottenham will go into all of these games with their belief replenished after winning their first game for a month.
"It is a result which helps us to stay more relaxed and believe," a relieved Pochettino said afterwards. "And to be confident in the way we work."
Although speaking to Pochettino over the last few weeks, he has never given the impression of a man under pressure or any internal doubts. Even his well-publicised outburst after the game in Milan on Tuesday night, seen as a sign of strain, was not entirely out of character. He has never much liked being asked why he dropped players.
Pochettino likes to draw a line between the reality of what happens on the pitch, which is his sphere, and that external perception outside. So while all the perception this month has been negative, Pochettino himself has not found it difficult to tune it out and just focus on his own job.
"I accept all the criticism," he said, "but the advantage for me is I don't read, I don't listen to the radio, I don't see the TV and that is so important. It's like if you move to Spain and struggle to understand everything. I don't hear too much so I am not too much affected by that."
There has never been any question whatsoever of Pochettino compromising his ideas just because Spurs lost three games.
"I don't ignore [the criticism] because you need to show respect," he said. "The most important is your judgement needs to be clear and you need to be right. That is the most important. Then to try to help the team to start to win games. That is the most important. It is our job."
Take, for example, the importance of playing out from the back. Last Saturday, Pochettino was furious at how careless his defence had been with the ball in their 2-1 defeat to Liverpool. They did not pass it properly, they handed it over to Liverpool, who punished them.
Two days later, Kieran Trippier and Toby Alderweireld were not taken to Milan, owing to what Pochettino euphemistically described as a "technical decision".
But on Saturday in Brighton, Trippier and Alderweireld were back in the Spurs team, and the whole back four was passing the ball better than ever. It helped that Brighton were happy to let them, showing them far too much respect. But Spurs started to pass the ball again, doing what they failed to do last week,
"I think today you can see the difference in between Liverpool and today, or Inter Milan.," said Pochettino. "We were improving a lot after Liverpool, we improved a lot against Inter Milan, and now I think it was again on show. That we respect our principles, I think the team played so well. You can play well, win or lose, but always respect [the principles]. It wasn't like this against Liverpool, and we lost of course."
Spurs are not playing their best football yet, but it is still only September. There is plenty of time for them to do that. And perhaps the best omen for their future improvement was not the result, or the passing, but the fact that Harry Kane found better goalscoring positions in the second half than he has done all season.
What Spurs need more than anything is for Kane to start running in behind again, trusting his speed. He did that in Milan, but lost control of the ball, but the fact he did it in Brighton should be hugely encouraging. In those runs, you can see the glimmer of Spurs' autumn revival. (© Independent News Service)