How Far Can Tottenham Progress In The Champions League?
This is Mauricio Pochettino’s fourth season as Tottenham manager and in modern football that is very long time to settle in. His team is good but there is a lot of room for development in order to match the elite teams in the game.
The biggest change as well as a challenge at Spurs this season, of course, is the Wembley stadium but there have been other things Pochettino has done which don’t come as a surprise, given his footballing acumen.
Spurs will be playing all their home games at Wembley this season, with White Hart Lane set for a revamp. And thanks to a loss to Chelsea and a last-minute draw conceded to Burnley, talk after August was that Spurs were suffering ‘a Wembley curse’.
Things looked shaky for the Londoners and a trip to Everton seemed tricky. Ronald Koeman’s side are truly struggling early on this season and a 3-0 win at Goodison Park meant Spurs were the biggest beneficiaries.
That win was followed by an astonishing and truly deserved 3-1 victory against Borussia Dortmund at Wembley in their Champions League opener. Pochettino changed Spurs’ play to cope with Dortmund’s own precise intensity, and the result was a positive and an enthralling one.
The mood slightly looked to have changed before a drab 0-0 draw against Swansea at Wembley reminded Spurs of morass August. It was a performance short of ideas and intensity. But they bounced back with a narrow 1-0 win against Barnsley in Carabao Cup to eke out little frustration that had started creeping amongst the fans.
Tottenham had entered last season’s Champions League on a beckon of optimism that had only swelled after the group phase draw put them with Bayer Leverkusen, Monaco and CSKA Moscow. They were out after 5 games, when they won just one of their 3 group matches at Wembley.
This time around with the likes of Dortmund, Real Madrid and APOEL Nicosia, Pochettino is aware that the group is more difficult than last season. He is not a man who likes to dwell on the past but feels that the tough lessons learnt at the hands of Monaco and Leverkusen can give a refreshing effect. He also argued that their early exit in Champions League last season was due to a slim and inexperienced side at his disposal.
“It was our first experience of the Champions League last season – previously 98% or 99% of the players played in the Europa League,” Pochettino said. “That experience [of last season] is important. We know very well what the competition demands of you. It was a very painful experience but, today, there’s not an excuse.”
Since his side needed reinforcements to compete in the league and Europe, Pochettino has added depth this season. The likes of Davinson Sanchez, Juan Foyth and Serge Aurier have all strengthened the defence, while in Fernando Llorente, Spurs have got an experienced striker ready to compete with the mercurial Harry Kane. When Danny Rose, Mousa Dembele, Erik Lamela and Victor Wanyama come back to full fitness, the manager will be delighted to have abundant options to choose from.
However, Pochettino will be grounded after the win over Dortmund. With reigning champions Real Madrid the overwhelming favourites to win the group, it looks like there’s going to be a tug-of-war between Tottenham and Dortmund for second place.
A trip to APOEL on Tuesday doesn’t look intimidating, but Pochettino will know that no game can be taken for granted in the Champions League. He will, undoubtedly field a strong side capable of taking home all three points.
Pochettino’s men have started well, but can they up their game in the next five group games? That’s the real question.