Tottenham Hotspur had just stunk the place out in Monaco and before he climbed aboard the team coach Moussa Sissoko wanted to talk about going home, in more ways than one.
“It would be good for us to play at home… going home would make it easier for us,” he said, articulating a hope which is beginning to take hold that Spurs might be able to return to White Hart Lane if, as seems likely, they find themselves in the Europa League next spring. The club are not ready to discuss that idea, given that there will be no Europa League if CSKA Moscow do in two weeks what every other side have done when facing Spurs at Wembley this season: beat them.
The protective blanket of N17 is soon to be an irrelevance in any case, given that Spurs will use the national stadium next season while work on their new ground takes place. The cold truth behind the club's abrupt European elimination after a mere five games is that challenging for both the Champions and Premier leagues requires more depth than Mauricio Pochettino has at his disposal.
It was honesty not an excuse when he declared in the depths of Stade Louis II that "maybe we need to add more quality in the squad." The collective of bright young English talent can only take a side so far. Spurs have lacked nous and leadership this autumn, in a competition which calls for both. “We have quality, yes,” Pochettino added. “To compete in Premier League, yes but you could say we struggled a little bit. When you have problem, injuries, it is difficult to be competitive.”
Some of the players who delivered so much last season are struggling to match that level: Eric Dier, Jan Vertongen, and Christian Eriksen. Some have struggled for fitness: Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Mousa Dembele. There is a thinness about the squad.
Pochettino has something to answer for in that respect. We’re still waiting to see a return on the investment he sanctioned this summer, with neither Sissoko nor Victor Wanyama quite the force many expected and Vincent Janssen yet to score from open play. Needless to say, Sissoko did not agree with his manager’s assessment on the depth of the squad.
As players have struggled, Pochettino has fiddled, employing yet another shift in system on the French Riviera. The absence of Vertongen and Kyle Walker from the defensive structure raised eyebrows, especially when the central defensive replacement Kevin Wimmer looked vulnerable, but neither of the absentees can say they have been reliable.
Pochettino’s tactics were also open to question. He persisted in pushing his wing-backs into advanced positions, even when it was becoming clear that Leonardo Jardim’s own overlapping full-backs, Benjamin Mendy and Djibril Sidibe, were wreaking such havoc in the space left behind. The fundamental indiscipline of conceding a goal 39 seconds after scoring an equaliser also has nothing to do with resources, though what Harry Kane described as a “schoolboy” error should not obscure the bigger picture. Monaco eviscerated Spurs.
Sissoko is anticipating Saturday’s match at Stamford Bridge – the fixture that was so incendiary last season. “I watched it on TV and it was a very tough game. I saw the tackles flying in and it is going to be another massive game. All the players will be up for it, do not worry. It will be another big battle.”
But the quest for another top four finish is pointless if the Champions League football it reaps is over by mid-November. Sissoko said when he signed in the summer that he had left Newcastle United for “Champions League football.” This wasn’t quite what he had in mind.Reuse content