Tottenham suffered a second successive Premier League defeat on Wednesday night, all but ending their title challenge with 10 games to go.
Mauricio Pochettino will have wanted his side to push Manchester City and Liverpool until the end of the campaign, but disappointing displays at Burnley and Chelsea mean Spurs have been dragged into the battle for a top-four finish.
Indeed, the Londoners are now just five points clear of fifth-placed Manchester United, while defeat in Saturday’s north London derby could see fourth-placed Arsenal close the gap on Tottenham to a single point.
Prior to their losses at Turf Moor and Stamford Bridge, Spurs had won four league games on the bounce. Yet there was a feeling Pochettino’s side scraped through those games, their subpar displays a result of Harry Kane’s absence and enforced rotation.
Despite Kane’s return, those issues have caught up with Tottenham in recent days. And it hasn’t helped that a small group of players have been far from their best.
Below, we’ve looked into five players currently letting Pochettino down and explored why that might be the case.
1. Hugo Lloris
Once incredibly reliable, Hugo Lloris no longer exudes the dependability Tottenham have clung to since he arrived at the club in 2012.
His bizarre individual mistake for France in the World Cup final may not have cost his country in the end, but it was indicative of the behaviour that has crept into Lloris’ game over the last two or three seasons. Simply put, he is far from the previously infallible presence between the sticks once considered a leading goalkeeper.
That’s not to say Lloris has completely lost it. The Spurs skipper still has those games from time to time, those performances in which he can’t be beaten. But Pochettino needs his captain to lead from the back, and it’s difficult for that to happen when errors are beginning to define the Frenchman’s game.
At Chelsea, Lloris allowed Pedro’s opener to slip through his legs – avoidable, perhaps, but arguably a slice of bad luck more than anything else. The second goal was more representative of Lloris’ flaws; Kieran Trippier clearly didn’t receive a shout from his goalkeeper, who rushed off his line only to see the ball creep past him.
Before Pochettino transformed Tottenham into a Champions League regular, Lloris was repeatedly linked with the exit door. The 32-year-old is no longer being coveted by Europe’s elite, which once would have been a relief to Spurs. Now, it’s a sign of his deterioration.
2. Kieran Trippier
When Kieran Trippier curled that free-kick into the top corner against Croatia in the World Cup semi-finals, many onlookers began to label him as one of Europe’s top full-backs, a culmination of his rise under Pochettino’s management.
Since then, however, Trippier has suffered from the weight of expectation. He has been desperately poor defensively for Spurs at times this season, especially in terms of his positioning and playing out from the back. Against Chelsea, his clearances rarely ended up where he intended and his touch repeatedly robbed Tottenham of any momentum going forward.
It only got worse from there. Lloris rightly took flack for failing to give Trippier a signal before he inadvertently scored his horrendous own goal, but the defender could have taken control of the situation – even if it meant risking losing possession by blasting the ball up-field – instead of waiting for his goalkeeper to do so.
Trippier has flattered to deceive going forward this term, too. Often praised for his crossing ability, the 28-year-old must begin to adopt the quality over quantity mantra. He attempted far more crosses than any other player on the pitch against Chelsea (8) but was only successful with three of them.
An extended period out of the starting line-up may actually do Trippier some good, but the competition isn’t exactly a viable long-term option…
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3. Serge Aurier
There are plenty of Tottenham fans who lament Trippier’s inclusion in the team whenever he is selected, but they usually change their tune when the alternative, Serge Aurier, gets the nod.
While Aurier has made a case for himself on occasion in a Spurs shirt – he provided a pinpoint assist for Jan Vertonghen’s goal against Borussia Dortmund at Wembley – he has generally been far below the standard Pochettino requires from his full-backs. His deliveries aren’t accurate enough, his decision making leaves a lot to be desired and his tackling is often rash.
Not unlike Trippier against Chelsea, Aurier was more responsible than most for slowing Tottenham’s attacks down in the defeat at Burnley. He would take two or three touches to control the ball properly, by which time an opponent had closed him down – in fairness to Burnley, they utilised the press extremely well.
At Turf Moor, Aurier was successful with just one of his six crosses. One wonders what Kyle Walker-Peters – who provided three assists in the opening 35 minutes of Spurs’ 5-0 win over Bournemouth on Boxing Day – has to do to earn a place in the team ahead of Aurier and Trippier.
With two players in the same position failing to impress this season, Pochettino will surely be in the market for a right-back this summer.
4. Christian Eriksen
Tottenham didn’t manage a single shot on target against Chelsea. It’s the first time they’ve failed to do so in a Premier League game since a shameful 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool in December 2013, a loss that resulted in the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas.
Wednesday’s failings are in no way comparable to those of Villas-Boas’ side, a desperately unconfident, colourless team who, following Gareth Bale’s exit, played some of the most uninspiring football Spurs fans have seen in the 21st century.
Failing to land a shot on goal at Stamford Bridge can primarily be put down to Chelsea’s newfound resilience provoked by talk of a crisis following the Kepa Arrizabalaga situation. But Tottenham’s inability to create meaningful chances was also a factor, and debatably much of that was prompted by Christian Eriksen’s indifferent form.
The Dane, who was instrumental in this fixture last season, didn’t create a single chance for a teammate and was unusually quiet throughout. The same can be said for his display at Burnley, leading to inevitable concerns over whether his contract situation is becoming a distraction. Eriksen’s current deal expires at the end of next season and there has been talk of a move to Real Madrid.
If Spurs are confident of extending Eriksen’s contract, they would be wise to get it sorted sooner rather than later to avoid further patchy form.
5. Lucas Moura
After using the second half of last season to acclimatise to the Premier League, Lucas Moura started this season brilliantly, notably scoring twice in a 3-0 win at Old Trafford.
It finally looked as if Pochettino had attained the player he had been dreaming of for a long time, a pacy, tricky attacker who could add another element to the front line, particularly in tight away games at Tottenham’s top six rivals. Moura’s pace was too much for United’s defence on that day back in August, leading to plenty of excitement among Spurs fans.
However, the Brazilian has fizzled out somewhat since then, particularly from the festive period onwards. Moura hasn’t scored in the league since Boxing Day, and when he has been introduced from the bench of late, he hasn’t done enough to convince Pochettino he is worthy of a starting spot.
In his defence, Moura was only given stoppage time against Burnley and 10 minutes at Chelsea to make an impact. It wasn’t enough time for him to even settle into either game, but it also demonstrates Pochettino’s opinion of the 26-year-old.
With Eriksen out of sorts and Son Heung-min drawing blanks in the last two matches, Moura has an opportunity to step up and earn a place in future starting line-ups, but any further disappointing cameos could ruin those chances.