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02nd Oct 2019

Ruthless Bayern are a portent of the end for Pochettino’s Spurs odyssey

Simon Lloyd

Bayern Munich in the Champions League…

Tottenham’s palatial new home was built for nights like this, only this was not how they were supposed to end. But for a raucous away section of Bayern fans, the stadium was emptying rapidly by the time Serge Gnabry arrowed his fourth goal of the game past Hugo Lloris with two minutes remaining.

7-2 to the German champions – the worst night of Maurcio Pochettino’s time as Spurs manager.

Speaking to BT Sport after the game, the Argentine praised Bayern’s finishing and rued how his own side failed to make more of a dominant opening 30 minutes. To an extent, Spurs were unfortunate: victims of a ruthlessly clinical Bayern side who scored with 70% of their shots on target.

Pochettino was right, too, to point to how good his side were in the opening half hour, pressing high, creating chances and playing with the same brand of feverish intensity they were, in the not too distant past, synonymous with. They were better than Bayern in those early stages and unfortunate to finish the first half 2-1 down.

After the interval, though, it spiralled desperately out of control. Yes, Bayern took their chances, but the way in which Niko Kovač’s team repeatedly exploited the space – the way in which they were repeatedly allowed to exploit the space – was alarming. Pochettino’s Spurs sides have been renowned for their sharpness, organisation and discipline throughout the former Southampton manager’s time at the helm. Here, those qualities were badly lacking.

Rarely do teams concede seven at home in the Champions League, especially not those that contested a final only four months ago. And while the margin of Bayern’s victory may have been flattering, it was undeniably a night of humiliation for Spurs – one that inevitably raises questions about the direction in which they and their manager are currently heading.

In isolation, this defeat might not have felt quite so significant. Set against the backdrop of some of their recent results, however, it does. Last week’s penalty shoot-out exit from the Carabao Cup at Colchester followed league defeat at Leicester; two-goal leads were surrendered at Olympiacos and Arsenal; they lost at home to Steve Bruce’s Newcastle, a side that look increasingly like relegation fodder with every passing week.

Something has changed at Spurs. The results show it; the performances show it. The exuberance and zeal of their play in the opening half hour against Bayern was rightly lauded by their manager but by the end only served as a reminder of how it used to be.

Three years ago, when they challenged Leicester for the league, this was standard – as it was when they finished runners-up to Chelsea the following season. Nowadays, that style has faded. They don’t press like they used to. What was once a cornerstone of what made them so effective has become increasingly rare.

As Pochettino surveys the wreckage of Tuesday night, it’s tempting to think back to that Madrid final in June and wonder if reaching it might just have been the pinnacle, that, even in the disappointment of defeat to Liverpool, whether it would have been the apt time for his cycle at Spurs to end.

On limited resources, he had taken them to the biggest game in club football. A new challenge might have made sense, and had things panned out differently at Old Trafford or the Bernabéu, perhaps he would have sought one.

Of course, it’s not out of the question that the Argentine might return Spurs to a Champions League final or even mount a serious title challenge at some point in the future. For now though, even in early October, it already appears that those feats are beyond them for this season, at least.

How he and his team respond to their Bayern mauling in the weeks ahead will be crucial in deciding whether he is in charge at the dawn of the next one.