Where do Tottenham go from here? Two humiliating defeats inside five days, 10 goals conceded and the loss of their first-choice goalkeeper and captain for the next few months, never mind the loss of face. It is not a good look.
Losing 7-2 at home to European giants Bayern Munich’s is one thing, but failing to respond with any sort of defiance, determination or spirit against Brighton is more disturbing, and Mauricio Pochettino’s body language said as much as his words after this humbling 3-0 defeat.
Brighton, who started the day with only five goals in seven games and without a home win in eight league games, should have been ideal opponents for Tottenham’s players to send out the message that they were ready to bounce back from that beating by Bayern and show their mettle.
They did, indeed, show what they were made of, and for Pochettino and the club’s fans, it made uncomfortable viewing.
From the third minute of the match, when Hugo Lloris produced another howler, which resulted in a simple opening goal for Neal Maupay and a dislocated elbow for the French goalkeeper, Spurs were second best and architects of their own downfall.
Brighton were terrific, zipping the ball about at pace and slicing open Spurs, who forced only three saves from home goalkeeper Mat Ryan, two of which came in the final few minutes.
Aaron Connolly was voted man of the match after scoring twice on his full Premier League debut, but there were equally lively and encouraging performances from all of his team-mates, in stark contrast to Spurs. Only substitutes Harry Winks and Lucas Moura emerged with credit, after Pochettino changed his formation and personnel in the second half.
The characteristics that Pochettino has been instilling in this team since his arrival in 2014 were missing; for sure there was plenty of attackers pressing defenders, structured passing movements from back to front, swift movement of the ball, harrying opponents and clinical finishing. But it was all from Brighton, who look like a side on the up, while Spurs look like a side on the slide.
Indeed, Tottenham have now lost as many games (17) as they have won in 2019, the worst record in the top flight. This despite reaching the Champions League final only four months ago and finishing in the top four for the fourth successive season.
So, what has gone so wrong and what can be done? While Pochettino was defiant in his post-match press conference and tried to assure supporters that he will stay and fight to get it right, midfielder Winks was more blunt. “I don’t know what has gone wrong. We’re going through a rough spell, which happens in football. It’s important we don’t get carried away or look too deeply into things. We have to first own up to how poor we have been, and then learn from it and look to put things right. It’s the international break now but then we have to come back and work doubly hard.”
While Pochettino retains the trust of most of the diehard supporters, as opposed to the keyboard warriors who are conducting a campaign against him on social media, there were plenty of travelling fans in Brighton who let their players know how angry they were at the final whistle, as Winks acknowledged. “At the end of the game, we went over to the fans to apologise, because, for Tottenham Hotspur, that performance was not good enough,” he said.
“Credit to Brighton who played really well, but our standards are much higher than this and we need to perform better. We have to apologise to the supporters who travelled and watched that because it was not acceptable.”
Winks is honest in his assessment of the season so far, too, knowing Spurs look well short of the side that has made strong title challenges in recent seasons and reached the Champions League final.
“In the past six years we have come a long way, but for the majority of the season we have not shown that, so it’s important we look back and reflect. First of all, to own up, as men, and say it was not good enough, there are no excuses, and then the only way to put it right is back in training and in the next match.”
A clear problem for Tottenham is the clutch of senior players whose contracts expire next summer, and the suggestion that some of them are not playing with full commitment, for the club or manager. Winks backs Pochettino unreservedly. “Of course we are fully behind him, he is our manager and has been fantastic since he has been at the club.
“He has taken the club to new levels and heights, and now we have to put it right, stand up as men and make sure we get through this rough patch.”
Eric Dier was even more forthright, suggesting rumours of unrest in the camp were misguided. “A lot of stuff from the outside is very far from reality,” said the England defender.
When asked if it was wrong to suggest players were unsettled and this team was coming to the end of a cycle, Dier replied: “I know that is not the case.
“It’s natural these things should come up because of the situation we find ourselves in, but we can’t back down from it, This is the worst period we have been in, but like we are doing now, we have to be together and push through it. It is on all of us, and only we can change it.”