Exactly a month after Tottenham’s brilliant 2-0 win over Manchester City, arguably their best performance under Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs slumped to a 1-0 defeat to Bayer Leverkusen in their most disjointed display since the 5-1 humiliation at Newcastle and, before that, going back to the manager’s earliest days at the club.
At Wembley on Wednesday, Spurs were unrecognisable from the side that dismantled Pep Guardiola’s team and they are now winless in six matches ahead of Sunday’s North London derby at Arsenal. ESPN FC names five factors behind Spurs’ recent poor form:
The October international break came at a bad time. Tottenham were flying after the City win but, speaking before the next match, Pochettino explained: “The problem is that we have 16 or 17 players away for two weeks and to put it all together now is a very complicated job.”
Son Heung-Min was “on fire” against City and looked a good stop-gap for Harry Kane but he has been a shadow since playing in Seoul and Tehran for South Korea. Danny Rose suffered for England; Mousa Dembele travelled to Belgium and quickly returned; Erik Lamela went to South America but didn’t play for Argentina.
“After the international break we suffered a lot of problems with our players that were involved in the internationals,” moaned Pochettino after the 0-0 draw at Bournemouth. The break disrupted Spurs’ rhythm and the manager has been unable to put the pieces back together again.
It’s not surprising that Spurs are worse without Kane and Toby Alderweireld, the top-scoring forward and best defender in England last season. They are not scoring without Kane — they have one goal from open play in six matches — and their attack is too predictable and too soft when Son or Vincent Janssen play.
Although Spurs have remained tight at the back, Alderweireld’s absence has been big, too. He is the first line of creativity, a brilliant passer, and the defence looks less brave without him.
On top of that, Rose and Son have been carrying knocks since the international break and Dembele is nursing an ongoing foot problem that forced him off against Leverkusen on Wednesday. Lamela has missed the last two games through illness and a hip injury. “For the last two seasons we were on the top of the [injury] list but look at the injuries,” Pochettino said on Oct. 23. “It is a little bit frustrating and disappointing but sometimes it happens.”
Key players slipping into bad form
Moussa Sissoko is the designated scapegoat for Wednesday’s defeat — he looked like a Sunday League centre-back having a go at playing right-wing in an end-of-season jolly — but Spurs’ problem is not just one summer signing who has struggled to settle.
The form of Eric Dier, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli — all fresh from new contracts and pay-rises — is a bigger concern. Dier, who played nearly every game last season and then at Euro 2016, is struggling and is short of rhythm and confidence, as he rotates between centre-half and midfield, while Eriksen has been sloppy all season.
Alli is unlucky that his shots keep hitting the bar but, like Son and Lamela, he has faded after a promising start to the season. Spurs have too many players out of form at the same time, particularly in the attacking third. These are the players who should be contributing goals but instead they look lost.
Pochettino has faced a tricky juggling act to manage his squad since the international break but the manager is not blameless. In Kane’s absence, he has not used Janssen or Son well. Janssen started in Moscow and Leverkusen, but Spurs looked better when Son moved up front; Son played at Bournemouth and on Wednesday, when Janssen was better suited.
The manager was also guilty of rushing Dembele back into the team, and using too many young players at Liverpool, while some of his substitutions — like bringing off Alli and Son at Bournemouth — have been puzzling. For all Pochettino’s talk of a “Plan B,” the switch to 4-1-4-1 has not helped Spurs to break down stubborn opponents and, in short, he has been unable to out-think any of his last six opponents.
Football is a game of fine margins and Spurs have probably been a little unlucky since the win against City. “We’re unlucky in every game we play,” Jan Vertonghen said after the draw against Leicester. The Belgian and Alli hit the bar in that game, one of five times Spurs have found the woodwork since beating Guardiola’s men. Things would be looking a lot rosier in the league and Champions League had one or two of those gone in.