LONDON (AFP) – Tottenham’s improbable rollercoaster run to the club’s first ever Champions League final last season has masked a steady decline in results for Mauricio Pochettino’s men stretching back to February.
The tension, emotion and elation of the late drama that saw Spurs past Manchester City in the quarter-finals and Ajax in the last four will live long in the memory.
But having ultimately fallen shot in the final against Liverpool, Pochettino remains without a trophy after five seasons in charge.
That does not diminish the impact the Argentine has had in transforming Tottenham from Europa League regulars to Champions League contenders.
Yet, it may well be that the window for this Spurs squad to win the Champions League closed with defeat to Liverpool on June 1.
Last season’s remarkable Champions League campaign began in the group stages when Pochettino’s men seemed down and out after picking up just one point from their opening three games against Inter Milan, Barcelona and PSV Eindhoven.
A far kinder draw this time around sees Spurs travel to Olympiakos tomorrow (1am Brunei time) with Bayern Munich and Red Star Belgrade to come in Group B.
Tottenham should be confident of progress to the last 16 for a third straight season, but their form over the past seven months means they can take little for granted.
Prior to undoubtably their best performance of the season so far, a 4-0 victory over Crystal Palace on Saturday, Spurs had mustered just 16 points from their last 16 Premier League games.
Pochettino has pointed to a myriad of reasons for that slump.
The amazing Champions League nights in Manchester and Amsterdam drew the very last sources of energy from a stretched squad that wore down during a 57-game season and were missing talisman Harry Kane for much of the second half of the campaign.
Spurs were also in the midst of moving from Wembley to a sparkling new 62,000 capacity stadium and had not signed a player in 18 months.
Most of those problems have now been addressed. Tanguy Ndombele, Giovani lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon have bolstered the squad, although all three have suffered injury problems early in their Spurs careers. Kane is back fit. The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is beginning to feel like home.
However, Pochettino was still unhappy as the futures of Christan Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen cast a cloud over their start to the season.
“I think it showed that the team was unsettled. When the team is unsettled, when the squad is unsettled, it is so difficult to perform in the way you want to perform,” said Pochettino.
“I’m not complaining or blaming anyone, but in football it’s so easy to describe situations and the focus wasn’t on playing football and it wasn’t on trying to improve. The focus wasn’t on the places we wanted it and it’s not easy to perform that way.”
All three are into the final year of their contract suggesting a break-up of the squad Pochettino has assembled is coming sooner rather than later, but a dismantling of Palace in the first 45 minutes last Saturday provides hope they have one more chance of realistically competing for trophies ahead.
“If we show that intensity in all our games for sure we are going to fight for big things,” added Pochettino.
“I am so happy to recover that feeling. We all needed it but now it’s to keep pushing. This is the first step of the season.”