Ahead of kick-off at Brighton, Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino said it was “important to move on” from the midweek 7-2 humiliation at home to Bayern Munich. But, instead, Spurs’ 3-0 defeat on the south coast has only served to deepen their troubles.
Rather than moving forwards, this is a Tottenham team stuck in a rut, with issues across the pitch undermining any hopes they had of using last season’s run to the Champions League final as a springboard into the successful new chapter Pochettino has spoken about.
As the ‘oles’ rang out around the Amex Stadium, with Brighton – a team that had not won at home since March – passing the ball around the beaten blue shirts of Tottenham with a confidence earned from their dominant display, it was tempting to wonder where Spurs go from here.
Immediately, there is an international break which will leave Pochettino stewing over what has gone wrong for the next two weeks, but could at least provide a mental refresh for the players who travel away on international duty.
But Tottenham have issues which will not blow over during the next fortnight.
On the pitch, Tottenham’s defence, midfield and attack are failing to meet the standards they have set for themselves in the past, while contract issues with Christian Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen have created an air of uncertainty about where the club is headed.
Tottenham lose again
Tottenham have lost 17 games in all competitions in 2019, more than any other top-flight side.
Pochettino has described his squad as “unsettled” this season and, after the humbling League Cup defeat at Colchester, said the January transfer window would be “a good opportunity to fix this situation”. However, after 17 defeats in 2019, it is hard to see a quick solution to their current problems.
A wretched away record, which has seen Spurs win just three of their last 18 away games across all competitions, coupled with the blown leads against Arsenal, Olympiakos, Leicester and Bayern this season, has seen Pochettino question his team’s mentality.
Physically, the intense pressing game which characterised Pochettino’s style at Spurs has dropped off, with the side looking lacklustre and weary at Brighton on Saturday.
The gritty, hard-fought comeback win over Southampton with 10 men last weekend appeared to be a turning point. Instead, a nightmare week has followed with Tottenham’s underlying issues badly exposed.
Defence – from a strength to a weakness?
Tottenham’s defence, which had the best record in the Premier League in the two seasons between 2015 and 2017, saw its status slip last year and now, after shipping 10 goals in the past two games, looks badly out of sorts.
There have been just two clean sheets this season – at home to Crystal Palace and in the shock shootout defeat at Colchester – and now Spurs are facing up to a long spell without first-choice goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris, after he was taken to hospital with an arm injury following his costly early error at Brighton.
Vertonghen and Alderweireld – both out of contract next summer – have looked unusually insecure, while at full-back, positions associated with the brilliant attacking play of much of Pochettino’s reign, Spurs’ previous strength now looks something of a weakness.
In 2017/18, Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier created more chances than any other defenders in the Premier League. Last season, Trippier – despite all the criticisms of his defensive work – only trailed Everton’s Lucas Digne and Liverpool’s Andrew Robertson in the metric.
This season, while Robertson’s team-mate Trent Alexander-Arnold approaches 30 chances created, no Tottenham full-back has reached double figures.
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On the left, with new signing Ryan Sessegnon out injured, Davies and Danny Rose – a player who was expected to leave Spurs in the summer – have been below the desired level.
At right-back, Pochettino has had to look to make-shift options in Davinson Sanchez or Moussa Sissoko as an alternative to the often-rash Serge Aurier, who was suspended for the trip to Brighton on the back of his error-strewn display against Bayern Munich.
Giovanni Lo Celso and Tanguy Ndombele were supposed to re-model Tottenham’s wanting central midfield but injury to the former and inconsistent form from the latter has stalled that plan.
That has left Pochettino searching for balance, alternating the shape and personnel in his midfield.
Harry Winks, playing as a deep-lying playmaker, has needed better defensive support around him than Ndombele or Sissoko have offered – particularly when a diamond has been employed – while at Brighton the returning Eric Dier was a shadow of the destructive defensive midfielder he has shown he can be in the past.
Further forwards, chief creator Eriksen is making fewer key passes per 90 minutes than he has at any point in his Tottenham career, while Erik Lamela has made just one goal contribution in his past nine appearances, scoring Spurs’ fourth in their 4-0 win over Crystal Palace.