Sunday 22 September 2019

Tottenham cannot be excused for Wolves defeat – question marks about the next level remain

Tottenham's Harry Kane looks dejected after Wolverhampton Wanderers' Helder Costa (not pictured) scored their third goal
Tottenham's Harry Kane looks dejected after Wolverhampton Wanderers' Helder Costa (not pictured) scored their third goal

Miguel Delaney

In the dressing room after this latest crash from the heights of so much praise, Mauricio Pochettino knew there was little he could say to his players. The message was just "move on", get that next result so that this feeling goes away.

There was already a lot being said outside the dressing room after that 3-1 defeat to Wolves, that Pochettino was well aware of.

All the talk about being "bottlers", about again losing at the moment there was the lightest suggestion they might be able to win the title.

It was certainly one of those occasions where this kind of criticism felt fair. What was so frustrating was how they so stopped just when seemed on a streak and - most of all - when it was so relevant, when it was in the spotlight's glare.

Pochettino insisted he doesn't care "about what the people say", but some of his answers could well serve as direct responses, and are at least worthy of rational consideration amid so much emotion surrounding this shock defeat.

The first answer was, actually, that this shouldn't be seen as such a shock. Pochettino pointed to it as just one of those games "that can happen", but is one that is likelier to happen at this time of year. That, to be fair, is undeniably true. The packed nature of the Christmas schedule means it is very rare for any sides to claim anything close to 100 per cent record over the four games, and Pochettino himself pointed to the Saturday result involving Wednesday's opponents Cardiff City.

"They won today against Leicester [City], Leicester after two amazing victories against Chelsea and City and lose at home to Cardiff."

Basically, as much of an excuse as it sounds, expect some unexpected results over Christmas. And there is an argument that they should be even more expected with Tottenham.

This is after all a squad not just stretched over Christmas, but stretched over the season. You only have to look at that makeshift midfield, and that defence. Almost all of their main protective players - Mousa Dembele, Eric Dier, Victor Wanyama and Jan Vertonghen - have been missing. These games have finally exposed that lack of depth in a way that they had got away with so far, and a way that Pochettino himself inadvertently referenced after the Wolves defeat.

"We miss that freshness to kill the game. Different things could have happened with Everton or Bournemouth but I think for me we killed the games, and then we managed properly the games."

A less charitable description might be that there were borderline moments in both of those matches - not least Everton's disallowed goal - that could have seen those huge victories go in a hugely different direction.

In other words, as genuinely brilliant as Spurs were going forward, that ensured the results - 5-0 and 6-2 - added an element of illusion to the overall performances.

In other words, too, a result like this was probably coming.

A number of factors combined to ensure it; from the makeshift midfield, to the lack of depth, to the intensity of the schedule.

But, even if it was coming, that doesn't mean Spurs should be absolved for the fact it came now.

Now, when the glare was for once on them; when they had played and talked their way into title contention; when they had a match before both Liverpool and Manchester City, to notionally keep the pressure up.

They still deserve more direct criticism there.

While Spurs do get more of these big essential results than is often put forward - the draw at Barcelona being the most relevant recent example - it is still true that they too often stumble when that big stride is necessary.

It goes without saying that Pochettino has done supremely to get them to this point in the first place, but there can still be questions about that next step.

That is after all the big question. What next? Where next?

It was some way to kill all the talk about Manchester United that so frustrated Spurs fans, but then maybe this result is all the more timely because it shows precisely why he should go there; because everything at Spurs feels so finite.

Will this encourage the club to spend the January money it needs, both for this season and that midfield, and to keep Pochettino? Or will that in itself remind Pochettino that a big decision is needed for himself this summer.

The Argentine at least knows exactly what is necessary in the immediate future. He knows they must win the next game. That's all that really can be said right now, the only truly good response.

Independent News Service

The Left Wing: Ireland's fullback dilemma, World Cup bonding and the squad standby list

Also in Sport