LONDON, United Kingdom, Oct 2 – Mauricio Pochettino has urged Tottenham to face their problems “like a man” but he has a huge job on his hands to mend shattered morale after their 7-2 Champions League mauling by Bayern Munich.
The team are at a crossroads just four months after they appeared in the final of the competition against Liverpool, winning just three out of 10 matches so far this season.
In truth, reaching the showpiece in Madrid helped paper over the cracks after a rocky end to the last campaign in which their form dropped alarmingly.
A summer of uncertainty saw key players including midfielder Christian Eriksen linked with moves that did not materialise, which has had an unsettling effect on a club that is desperate to claim a regular place at Europe’s top table.
Tottenham have been patchy this season, with a B-string crashing out of the League Cup late last month at the hands of fourth-tier Colchester United.
After that defeat Pochettino talked about “different agendas in the squad”, hinting that all was not well in the dressing room.
But Tuesday’s punishing loss against the five-time European champions in their gleaming new stadium will do far more psychological damage.
It was the biggest-ever margin of defeat for an English team at home in European competition and the first time the club had ever conceded seven goals in a home match in any major competition.
Former Spurs and England winger Chris Waddle said off-field issues were getting in the way.
“I don’t think Serge Aurier wants to be there, Christian Eriksen hasn’t signed a new contract. There is so much going on off the pitch,” he said.
“It should have been dealt with over the summer. Instead all the contract questions are still going on. It’s a shambles.”
– Pochettino calm –
It is impossible to know what Pochettino said to his players behind closed doors at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium but when he spoke to the press after the game he was measured.
“I think we are very critical of ourselves, to find always the way to fix problems,” he said. “We need again to try to work, to try to move on. I think it’s more psychological now.”
“The most important thing is to stay calm, no rushed analysis, no rushed judgement, no rushed assessment,” he added.
“You need to show your quality like a man first. To face it like a professional. This type of situation you have to show your quality, how you are strong.”
Spurs at their best play an incisive, fluent brand of attacking football with Eriksen, Son Heung-min and Harry Kane a handful for any opposition, but they can be surprisingly brittle.
The unsettled Eriksen was not in the starting line-up on Tuesday, dropped in favour of the out-of-form Dele Alli but Spurs had plenty of chances in a gripping first half before being rocked on their heels by goal from Robert Lewandowski on the stroke of half-time.
The second half was a horror show as they fell apart, with salt rubbed into the wound by the fact that former Arsenal youngster Serge Gnabry scored four times.
Pochettino talked about how last season’s Champions League run was the end of a cycle and spoke of the need for a reset.
“For me after the final of the Champions League was a chapter closed and now the club is in a period that they need to open another chapter and design a project medium, long-term,” he said.
The problem he faces is convincing players such as Son and Kane that he is the man to deliver long-overdue silverware.
Pochettino, now in his sixth season at the club, appears to have a vision for taking the club forward but he must communicate that vision quickly. And the players must listen.