Soccer Football – Premier League – Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool – Wembley Stadium, London, Britain – September 15, 2018 Tottenham’s Erik Lamela celebrates scoring their first goal with Son Heung-min REUTERS/Dylan Martinez.
Tottenham open their Champions League campaign at Inter Milan on Tuesday bidding to banish the growing belief that they lack the steel to win major silverware.
Packed with dynamic young stars and well drilled by charismatic manager Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham appear to have all the ingredients required for a winning recipe.
Having nine Tottenham players among the four World Cup semi-finalists, a group that does not include key players Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-min, underlines just how potent their squad should be.
Yet since Pochettino took charge in May 2014, Tottenham have proved English football’s ultimate tease.
Without silverware since the 2008 League Cup, Tottenham are in danger of becoming European football’s nearly men, a predicament that has raised the stakes for Pochettino and his players.
At an age when Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola were already well established as managerial titans, the 46-year-old Pochettino is still waiting for his first trophy.
Crumbling in the face of adversity has been a Tottenham trademark for decades and, while Pochettino has done much to raise standards at the north London club, he is yet to eradicate their tendency to repeatedly snatch failure from the jaws of success.
In the 2015-16 season, Pochettino had Tottenham positioned as the most likely challengers to surprise leaders Leicester, only for a pair of damaging draws against West Brom and Chelsea to kill off their challenge.
A year later, Spurs were breathing down Chelsea’s neck in the final weeks of the season, but one unexplainable tame loss at West Ham allowed their London rivals to pull away.
Compounding Pochettino’s misery that season was Tottenham’s failure to make it out of their Champions League group and an FA Cup semi-final defeat against Chelsea.
Manchester City’s blistering form rendered all challengers irrelevant last season, but Spurs still managed to squander two opportunities to make a statement.
Having overpowered holders Real Madrid in the group stage, they looked set for another impressive Champions League scalp after securing a 2-2 draw in their last-16 first leg at Juventus.
However, despite taking the lead in the return leg, Pochettino’s team allowed Juventus to score two late goals that ended their European ambitions.
That frustrating setback was compounded by their FA Cup semi-final loss to Manchester United — once again Tottenham led, only to limply surrender the initiative.
Entering this season with the exact same cast of players — there were no signings partly due to the financial constraints of a delayed new stadium — has left Pochettino with his hands tied and the results have been entirely predictable.
When a 3-0 win at Manchester United extended Tottenham’s perfect start, many pundits were quick to hail them as serious rivals for City’s title.
But just days later, Tottenham reverted to type, allowing the momentum to slip from their grasp in a shock 2-1 defeat at Watford.
Saturday’s 2-1 home loss to Liverpool once again underlined that Spurs are far from the finished article, as a frustrated Pochettino admitted.
“The reality is this type of game shows we need to improve if we want to be contenders at the end to win some titles,” he said.
Harry Kane’s fatigued displays so far this season and the distraction of Hugo Lloris’s drink-driving arrest have added to the feeling that Pochettino faces the acid test of his managerial skills this season.
The Argentinian must find a way to imbue his team with a killer instinct they currently lack, and if the players prove unable to respond then he will have to press chairman Daniel Levy to make signings in January.
While it is too early to write off Tottenham’s chances of ending their trophy drought, Pochettino has made it clear he regards the Premier League and the Champions League as the only prizes that matter.
With Barcelona and PSV Eindhoven also in Tottenham’s group, a defeat at the San Siro would be a significant setback to Pochettino’s hopes of finally getting his hands on that long-awaited trophy.