Tottenham Hotspur goalkeeper Hugo Lloris said the team must change their mentality as they prepare to meet neighbours Arsenal on Sunday
For Hugo Lloris, the low point of Tottenham Hotspurs season was defined by something unacceptable. The teams style suffered a jarring breakdown in the 1-0 Champions League defeat against Bayer Leverkusen at Wembley on Wednesday night but it was the reason why that so infuriated the captain. According to him, the players had lost their focus. The mentality was flawed.
You cannot pretend to be a challenger, you cannot pretend to be a big club in Europe, if you are not ready to compete, Lloris says, his measured tones somehow amplifying the force of the sentiment. My feeling was that the team was not ready to compete against Leverkusen because, under pressure, we lost a bit of our strength, we didnt create a lot and we made a lot of mistakes. We have a proper style to play football and I didnt recognise the team.
The stirring 2-0 Premier League home win over Manchester City on 2 October, which was built on smartly applied pressure and cohesion, felt like a long way away and it is no great stretch to portray Tottenham as being in turmoil as they head into the north London derby at Arsenal on Sunday.
On one level, it sounds ridiculous, as Mauricio Pochettinos team boast the only unbeaten record in the division. They have the meanest defence, too, by a margin. But, on the other hand, the post-City sequence now stands at six matches without a win in all competitions and, post-Leverkusen, their hopes of qualification to the knockout phase of the Champions League hang by a thread.
They have scored only three goals in those six games (two of them penalties) and it is this misfiring that shadows them into the derby; chipping away at the collective belief. Pochettino said last Tuesday that the issue was not related to technique or ability; rather, it was psychological. The manager has been grilled on the subject so have the players and when this type of narrative takes hold, the circle can become vicious.
Son Heung-min was asked whether the confidence in front of goal had been low. Maybe, maybe it is, the forward says. We have had great chances in every game and its also a bit unlucky. But we have to accept that it is three goals in six games. Well try to change the face against Arsenal.
Lloris adds: Its a collective problem and we are all involved in that. Its not only the offensive players, its the whole team, and we need to find a solution. If not, its going to be tough.
Almost all of Spurs matches this season have been knife-edge affairs and Pochettino has called for greater ruthlessness almost as a matter of course. The contrast to Arsenal, who are in form and free-scoring, is vivid and it is a source of worry for Tottenham.
Much has been made of Harry Kanes absence since the middle of September with an ankle ligament injury, even if nobody was talking about it after the City game, when Son had played like a world-beater at centre-forward. Kane brings more than dead-eyed precision in the penalty area; his movement drags opposing defences out of shape, opening up spaces for his team-mates and his link-up play is excellent.
As Tottenham have stuttered, the options that Kane provides have come to be missed more and more. He will return against Arsenal in the starting XI and that will provide an emotional uplift; particularly, as he has scored in the previous three league derbies. His two-goal heroics in the 2-1 victory over Arsenal in February 2015 have entered Tottenham folklore. Then again, one man can only do so much.
Maybe Harry is going to give us a little boost, which is the thing that we need at the moment, Lloris says. We have some important players in our team, like in every club, and when they miss some games, sometimes it can affect the performance. But we cannot hide ourselves behind those excuses.
Tottenham got themselves into a tizz against Leverkusen, with one error leading to another and it was shocking to see how they failed to make in-roads in an attacking sense. They created little of clear-cut note in open play. Pochettino has trumpeted his 4-1-4-1 formation as his plan B perhaps, because he is mindful that his critics say he does not have one but when he switched to it against Leverkusen, from 4-2-3-1, it did not make the difference.
In the City game, Tottenham had a clear plan against a team that like to get on the front foot and play. The hope is that Spurs can profit similarly against Arsenal, who are also proactive rather than reactive especially at home. Where Tottenham have struggled is against opponents who organise themselves tightly behind the ball and want to sting on the counterattack; when the onus has been on Pochettinos players to find the decisive combinations.
Pochettino talks about how the problem might not lie entirely in the attacking third. Maybe, its because we are not building in a very good way from the back and the ball arrives in the last third in different condition, he says, with possible reference to how the distribution skills of the injured centre-half, Toby Alderweireld, have been missed. Its a very complex job for us to analyse why. But its true that we are finding a problem and now its more difficult to try to fix that.
The Champions League has brought additional demands and it was interesting to hear Son say: Physically, its difficult every three days, we have a game. But a big part of the analysis has been to address how so many of the teams key attack-minded players have hit a slump.
Mousa Dembl has been unable to find the rhythms of last season because of suspension and injuries; Christian Eriksen went missing against Leverkusen and his influence has waned; Son is suddenly struggling and Dele Alli has admitted that he has to start being more clinical. Then, there is the case of Vincent Janssen. The strikers lack of a burst of pace has been an issue and his movement compares unfavourably to that of Kane. The way the 17m summer signing from Alkmaar regularly chooses the safe option reflects a lack of confidence.
Pochettino has enjoyed decent enough results against Arsenal one win and three draws in the league, though he lost to them in last seasons Capital One Cup and he might reflect that the run his team is on, complete with the heavy scrutiny, is merely a part of the Premier League cycle.
Soul-searching, however, has been the theme of the past few days. I hope we are going to bounce back and, at least, make a great performance, Lloris says. After, you win; you lose. But you cannot leave the pitch with that feeling that we had after Leverkusen.