Bibras Natcho’s 78th minute penalty held Bayer Leverkusen to a 1-1 draw in Moscow to give Tottenham a lifeline if they could collect all three points against Monaco, but in truth Spurs have always looked out of their depth in this competition.
Mauricio Pochettino has done a fantastic job at White Hart Lane and their performances in the Premier League last season were breathtaking at times. This led many to believe Tottenham could go far in the Champions League, and a favourable group with CSKA Moscow, Bayer Leverkusen and Monaco increased that belief.
However, the north London side’s flaws have been exposed at this level with Leverkusen and Monaco outplaying them twice each. Pochettino has his brilliant goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to thank for escaping Germany with a scoreless draw and keeping a menacing looking Monaco side from scoring more goals. Radamel Falcao in particular was denied numerous times.
In Lloris, there is no doubt that Tottenham have one of the best goalkeepers in the world but worryingly they have become as dependent on the French shot stopper as Manchester United have become on David De Gea in recent seasons.
Spurs looked so strong defensively in the Premier League last season yet they were completely wide open against Monaco. Toby Alderweireld would be missed from any defence, and playing their home games at Wembley was always going to be a hindrance.
Some people argued the Champions Leagues games in front of 90,000 fans would be a dream occasion and Wembley would become a fortress but that was never going to be the case.
White Hart Lane is Tottenham’s home, not Wembley. It is always difficult to create an intimidating atmosphere in a big, open stadium like the north west London venue.
White Hart Lane is more compact and closed in which allows the players to have a real taste for the atmosphere, especially on a big European night.
The stadium change did not help but the main issue is that the Champions League is a completely different ball game to the Premier League. Tottenham are perfectly suited to English football. Pochettino has built a well organised, athletic and physical team that are arguably the fittest in England’s top flight.
When it comes to Europe however, that is not enough and Tottenham lack the technically gifted players required. Christian Eriksen and perhaps Dele Alli are the only players in that side with some cunning. There are too many ball-winners and runners in the squad. That is either a flaw in the philosophy of the team or the transfer policy.
Eric Dier, Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele in midfield will get around the pitch better than most and put some tackles in but none of them have the ability to keep possession, control games and open up defence’s as is required in the more cultured climate of European football. The signing of Moussa Sissoko from Newcastle for £30 million defied logic after one or two decent games in the Euros.
Where was he when Newcastle got relegated?
Tottenham are unbeaten in the Premier League and will push strongly for a top four position. If they manage to secure Champions League football next season, this must be a lesson learned. They need more technically accomplished players to add balance to their squad
A midfield of Dier, Wanyama, Dembele and Sissoko will not get any team far in the Champions League, even against moderate opposition.
It looks like the Europa League in the New Year but first they are back in Premier League action with the small matter of a London derby against high flying Chelsea. It will be interesting to see how they respond.
Vincent O’Shea, Pundit Arena