Tuesday’s early game in the UEFA Champions League saw Internazionale secure a late win against Tottenham in the San Siro. The Italian giants were drawn from Pot 4, the lowest of the qualifiers, and were immediately regarded as the team to avoid. Spurs, already reeling from a draw that saw them paired with Barcelona, must have rued their ill-luck when I Nerazzuri completed the group along with PSV Eindhoven.
And yet Inter have no recent Champions League experience to speak of, last qualifying for the competition in 2011-12 where they crashed out in the first knockout stage to Marseille. True, they’re hardly a part-time outfit, but Spurs had no particular reason to fear them. This is a far different outfit from the side who secured five consecutive scudetti (albeit one was awarded due to Juventus’ ban for match-fixing) and the 2010 Champions League. They haven’t finished higher than fourth since 2011. By contrast, Spurs are one of the strongest sides in the Premier League and can call on the winner of the World Cup Golden Boot, Harry Kane.
When Christian Eriksen’s deflected strike flew past Samir Handanovic in the 53rd minute, the visiting fans were so confident of a winning start that they began to shout ‘Ole!’ to every Tottenham touch from the stand. It all changed when Mauro Icardi hammered in a sumptuous volley from outside the Tottenham area and Matias Vecino headed home from a poorly defended corner in injury time. Somehow, Spurs had managed to clutch defeat from the grasp of victory.
Much has been made of the result with manager Mauricio Pochettino asking the press for respect for the players who took part rather than concentrating on those who missed out. This is the first time the Argentine has come under even the lightest criticism since he was appointed in May 2014. His decision to leave both Toby Alderwiereld and Kieran Trippier — both World Cup semi-finalists — at home has angered some of the Tottenham faithful. This, along with defeats at Watford and Liverpool, means that this is the first time since the days of Tim Sherwood that the Lilywhites have lost three consecutive games.
While this is undoubtedly a disappointing time for them, it’s far from a crisis. Sure, losing at Vicarage Road was a shock, but Liverpool and Inter Milan are hardly ‘gimmes’, particularly given the form of their Premier League rivals and the baying home advantage of the latter. Furthermore, Mauro Icardi’s goal was worthy of any game though Pochettino may be concerned at the lack of fight for the late corner which saw Vecino secure all three points.
Perhaps, if there is an issue it goes back to the summer. The decision not to add to the squad which finished third in the Premier League last term was a surprising one, but it can be viewed in two ways. Firstly, it could be argued that no arrivals gives the advantage of not having unsettled players in the squad. Footballers are only human and can’t always be expected to hit the ground running when they sign for their new clubs. For every Mo Salah at Liverpool (44 goals in his first season) there is an Alexis Sanchez at Manchester United, who has yet to hit the heights his undoubted ability can reach. Spurs don’t have that problem this season. You can’t wait for players to bed in if there are none.
Conversely though, was it wise to assume that exactly the same team can overturn the Manchester clubs and rampant Liverpool and Chelsea sides by standing still in the market? Lucas Moura may feel like a new signing as he was only used sparingly last season, but that’s hardly going to be enough. While their rivals have added strength to their squads, Spurs only looked half-heartedly at Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish.
Is this start therefore inevitable or is it a blip? Well, that remains to be seen.
The fixture list certainly looks kind. On Saturday they travel to Brighton in the teatime game — a winnable fixture you’d assume, given that Chris Hughton’s side have only won one of their five Premier League encounters. After that it’s an EFL Cup game with Watford then Huddersfield, Cardiff and West Ham — not exactly the toughest run. On 3rd October though, Barcelona come to Wembley.
Equally, though the start to the Champions League has been awful, there is still plenty of time to recover. Expecting victories against the Catalan giants may be a little optimistic, but Inter Milan won’t relish a trip to London and PSV start the group with no points and a goal difference of minus four. By that time, Harry Kane is likely to return to form.
A crisis? No, not really. Maybe this is just par. The Tottenham staff chose not to compete in the market so can hardly expect to challenge for the title. The nightmare scenario is finishing outside of the top four and missing out on Champions League football next term, but even that is a far off concern. Manchester United have lost two games too — one of them to Spurs so …
Early days yet.