By Bilal Ali
It’s the 73rd minute of Tottenham Hotspur’s first game of the 2019/20 Premier League season – they’ve been knocking on the proverbial door for the last ten to 15 minutes, determined to find an equaliser against newly-promoted Aston Villa and avoid embarrassment in front of a now increasingly restless home crowd.
The glamour of the newly built Tottenham Hotspur Stadium has done nothing to ease the anxiety of the crowd since John McGinn’s opener in the 9th minute, and the desperation for a goal is audible.
Enter Tanguy Ndombele, one of Tottenham’s new boys, marking his home debut with an absolute rocket of a shot past a despairing Tom Heaton, who had been like an invisible force-field up to that point, but that shot would have two keepers sprawling over the top of each other trying to save it.
Then it was on, the crowd came alive and the focus shifted to securing all three points. Villa were resurgent, but in the 86th minute Harry Kane did what Harry Kane does, albeit not very often in August, he scored to put Tottenham in front.
The crowd only had to wait another four minutes for Kane’s second goal, sealing Spurs’ first win of the season. However, as the raucous crowd chanted deep into the night, they weren’t to know that the last 30 minutes was the last period of good football they’d see from their side in August.
That statement may seem bizarre when you take into consideration the result of their next game, a two-all draw away to the champions Manchester City, but that score-line does not even begin to tell the story of that game.
Tottenham were dismal, their performance mirroring that of a bottom-ten side hoping to scrape a result against their top-six opposition.
Spurs’ two goals came from their only two shots on target, and while some may call that efficiency, others could call it a deficiency in attacking prowess.
Manchester City looked to have won the game in the dying minutes with a Gabriel Jesus goal, only for the Video Assistant Referee to intervene and deny the champions the three points.
Tottenham hosted Newcastle one week later in what should have been a regulation win for the North-Londoners, but Steve Bruce’s side produced a shock victory over last season’s Champions League finalists and resigned Spurs to their first loss of the season, after flirting with the idea for the first fortnight of the campaign.
There were more worrying signs from the game than the result; Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen were both left out of the starting line-up for causing “unrest” in the change room, the latter has not made an appearance of any variety this season, and Harry Kane was as anonymous as the lead character from ‘V for Vendetta’ for the second consecutive week.
Now, I need to preface the next part of this piece with the fact that Mauricio Pochettino is undoubtedly the best thing to happen to Tottenham Hotspur since Paul Gascoigne, but it’s important to outline when there is a worrying pattern of results and performances developing.
In February of last season, it looked like Spurs might become an unexpected entrant into the exclusively two-way title race between Liverpool and Manchester City, and if not that, then a sure thing for third place.
But something else happened in February, Tottenham began their miraculous run through the knockout stages of the Champions League, and that saw their league form dip dramatically and they hung on for fourth place by the grip of their teeth.
Tottenham have now won seven and lost 11 of their last 21 competitive games, and have only picked up 15 points in the last 15 rounds of the Premier League. Brighton and Watford are the only teams to have competed in both last season and this season’s Premier Leagues and picked up fewer points.
Pochettino was making his unhappiness clear before a ball was even kicked this season, suggesting his role should be changed from Manager to Head Coach because of his lack of input in his side’s transfer dealings.
Now he appears to have fallen out of love with both Eriksen and Vertonghen, with the former’s issues starting after last season’s Champions League final when he stated that he needed “a new challenge.”
No matter what it says on his office door, Pochettino now needs to manage this situation before it becomes even more toxic than it currently appears to be. Eriksen appears to be Real Madrid’s second choice after Paul Pogba, and if his mind is in Spain’s capital then Pochettino needs to either set him straight and tell him that he will play into the final season of his contract, look across North London to Arsenal to see how that ends, or sell him now.
The situation with Vertonghen is not as easy to dissect, and with Tottenham’s defence looking especially suspect against Newcastle’s attack this past weekend, that situation seems in need of even more urgent resolving than that of Eriksen.
The reality is that Tottenham are a club harbouring ambitions of trophies and a continual period of success; but until they address the issues at the core of the club, it appears that their fortunes are only heading one way.