Signs Spurs can get back to their best?

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Tottenham showed signs of a return to form in thrashing Red Star Belgrade
Tottenham showed signs of a return to form in thrashing Red Star Belgrade

Tottenham showed signs of a return to form in thrashing Red Star Belgrade

When one of Tottenham’s social media accounts posed a question just before kick-off asking supporters who they would like to see in the team, the most popular response was a stinging one. “Someone who cares,” came the reply. Mauricio Pochettino will be encouraged to know that he picked a team full of such players on Tuesday evening.

While the consensus was that the Tottenham cycle was over, the bad news cycle must have seemed incessant for Pochettino and his players. Given these circumstances, the 5-0 home win over Red Star might bring more than just three points. It could be a turning point – a “little step” back towards Spurs’ true selves, in the words of their manager.

Pochettino did not want to get too carried away. “It’s now about staying calm. It’s a good result but it’s only three points.” His body language told a different tale. The body language of his players seemed to suggest something different too and the crowd responded. They backed the team vociferously from the outset – a point Pochettino was quick to make.

“The fans were fantastic,” he said. “The atmosphere was great. Thank you very much for that.” Asked again about those supporters later in the press conference, he added: “I feel that they love me and they need to feel that I love them too. I am here to help the club feel happy. I need to work 100 per cent every day to provide the results that they expect of us.”

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It was Pochettino’s old favourites who delivered Tottenham’s biggest win since the first week of 2019. Harry Kane produced a complete centre-forward display in scoring twice, while Heung-Min Son matched that tally. Pochettino’s compatriot Erik Lamela was directly involved in three goals in the same game for the first time in more than three years.

Indeed, for all their extraordinary exploits in the competition, this was arguably Tottenham’s most convincing performance in Europe since beating Borussia Dortmund at Wembley back in February. Red Star were far from good, that’s true, but this was a night that was always going to be about what Pochettino’s players were doing rather than their opponents.

Losing leads have been a feature of Tottenham’s season away from home but in front of their own supporters the problems have often come early. While the results were different each time, going behind to Aston Villa, Newcastle and Watford changed the entire complexion of those matches. Sluggish starts have stopped Spurs developing any rhythm to their play.

This was very different and the result was that they looked a very different team. Pochettino referred afterwards to the “great energy” his players showed and the passing between Kane, Son, Lamela and Dele Alli was crisp right from the start. They were backed up by a midfield that was on the front foot. Tottenham were actually pressing again.

Tottenham played with an energy that has been lacking this season Tottenham played with an energy that has been lacking this season

Tottenham played with an energy that has been lacking this season

Perhaps that is why, among a host of fine individual performances on the night, it was Alli’s showing that will delight Pochettino as much anything else. Dropped from the England squad and even the Tottenham team of late, Alli has looked nothing like the player who so impressed everyone with his movement and the timing of his runs into the penalty box.

But here he was, putting opponents under pressure in the final third once more, closing down the goalkeeper and following his own passes with real purpose. Alli covered 6.42 kilometres in the first half, far more than any other player on the pitch, and received a standing ovation when substituted late on. This was something for him to build on.

It was something for them all to build on. An important result for two reasons, Pochettino argued. Firstly, Tottenham needed the points to lift them off the bottom of their Champions League group. But secondly, and even more significantly, it restored the confidence that had been so hit by a run that had included just one win in their previous seven games.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Tottenham’s draw against Watford

FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Tottenham’s draw against Watford

“We need to feel that confidence and we need to learn step by step and be solid once again,” he explained. “This was only the first step.” Clearly, there is much still to work on. Pochettino praised the energy levels but asked specifically if this performance marked a return to the pressing game that had long been a feature of his team’s play, he was blunt.

“Not really, in the way that I like, no.”

It was not always coordinated but the enthusiasm was there and that’s all anyone could hope to see at this stage. Tottenham feel like a team trying to relearn their own game but Pochettino stressed that the problem was not tactical – hinting instead, once again, at the unsettling build-up to the campaign that dominated discussion over the summer.

“I am happy with the players, I keep telling you,” he said. “We have a great squad. But we started late. It is not an excuse, I am telling you now after a 5-0. We started to build the dynamic late. The competition doesn’t wait.”

He added: “I am facing the situation how it is, the situation we are living now. I am very realistic. It is a group who have never before lived this situation. It is a great moment to grow. Be mature. This type of situation should help us to be stronger in the future. The commitment we showed in the past we are seeing now.”

These Spurs supporters will appreciate that. Someone who cares. It’s all they wanted to see. Now they will want to see more of it. But here’s the rub. The fixture list has not been so kind when it comes to momentum building. “Now we go to Anfield with confidence,” said Pochettino in reference to his team’s trip to Liverpool in the Premier League this Sunday.

A reunion with Tottenham’s Champions League final opponents from June might not seem the best fixture for a team trying to rebuild fledgling belief. But maybe, like this win over Red Star, it will serve as a welcome reminder of just what they can accomplish together. If Spurs can remember that – and remember how they accomplished it – they might just have a chance.

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