Pochettino gamble falls flat in Monaco and Spurs crash out after five games
It was the latest painful lesson Mauricio Pochettino and his Tottenham Hotspur players have been forced to endure on this Champions League journey and it was one that emphatically ruined their dream. The team poured blood, sweat and tears into qualifying for the competition but they will go no further.
When the draw was made for Group E there had been the sense Tottenham had not done too badly regarding opponents. It was based, in part, on Monaco being beatable. Spurs, after all, had taken four points from them at the Europa League group stage last season. How misplaced that judgment now looks.
Monaco have improved dramatically and having beaten Tottenham at Wembley in September, they were once again too good. Radamel Falcao saw an 11th-minute penalty saved by Hugo Lloris, who was Spurs outstanding player indeed, their only player to emerge with any credit but Monaco took control and they always looked the likelier winners. They will advance to the last 16 as the group winners.
Son Heung-min blew a glorious early chance that may have put a different complexion on the tie for Tottenham but it was an evening when a single truth screamed for attention. Pochettinos squad have been found wanting at this level and they were found out badly again here. As against Bayer Leverkusen at Wembley in the previous game a 1-0 defeat too many of their players were either below-par or anonymous.
Defensively they were a shambles at times cohesion lacking and the backline anything but straight and they were indebted to Lloris, who made a clutch of saves, none better than the reflex tip-over from Kamil Gliks point-blank effort after 68 minutes.
Tottenham fashioned a lifeline when Harry Kane drove home from the penalty spot to cancel out Djibril Sidibs opening goal but their deficiencies were summed up when Monaco took four passes from the subsequent kick-off and Thomas Lemar thumped them back in front. It was schoolboy to concede like that, Kane said, and that was putting it mildly.
Pochettino had tinkered with his formation for the third match in succession, switching to a 4321 formation with Victor Wanyama anchoring the midfield three and Son and Dele Alli further forward in support of Kane. Pochettino has offered the impression of a manager grasping for the right blend, because something is not right. His team have won only once in nine matches in all competitions.
Pochettino has regularly called for greater ruthlessness in front of goal and he could curse Son for his miss but the reality was that Tottenhams creative talents were off their games. It was startling to see how one-paced the team were and Danijel Subasic was not overly extended in the Monaco goal, after he had put off Son in the sixth minute.
Allis pass had set the South Korean clean through and perhaps he had too much time to think about his options. The forward tried to dribble around the goalkeeper only for Subasic to read his intentions and force him away from goal. It was a horrible moment for Son, who had also been guilty of a big miss in the early running against Monaco at Wembley, and it was not the only time his touch was heavy.
Monaco showcased the slick, front-foot football that has underpinned their flying start to the season and they made light of the penalty miss which followed a swing-and-a-miss from Wanyama, as he attempted to clear, and a-swing-and-a-hit from Eric Dier, as he took out Fabinho. Falcao watched Lloris spring low to his right to get a firm hand to his penalty.
The surprise in Pochettinos lineup was the inclusion of Kevin Wimmer in place of Jan Vertonghen in central defence the Belgian was not injured while Kieran Trippier came in for Kyle Walker at right-back.
Trippier wore a mask to protect a broken nose while Alli had a strapping on the left knee that he had recently injured. Tottenham have been battered and bruised by the demands placed on them this season and it was easy to see this as a game too far.
Monaco pinned Tottenham back and Pochettinos team were happy to reach the interval at 0-0. Lloris denied Benjamin Mendy in the 13th minute and the lively Valre Germain twice went close in the first-half.
The breakthrough had been advertised and it came early in the second half, when the beautifully balanced Bernardo Silva found Mendy, who beat Harry Winks to cross. Wimmer stretched to clear but he could not and Sidib was all alone to head past Lloris. One full-back had supplied the assist, the other the finish, and it said everything about Monacos approach.
Tottenhams penalty came after Alli took a magical first touch on a high ball into the area and pirouetted away from Glik, before feeling the defenders arm on him.
But Spurs would surrender the initiative in what seemed like a heartbeat. They had a few flickers in search of the equaliser but in truth it never looked on.