Tottenham is disintegrating.
Not quite four months after it installed Jose Mourinho to save its season from a woeful start, Spurs are in a tailspin. This time last year, Tottenham was in the midst of a miraculous run to the Champions League final, powered by a series of improbable late upsets. Now, after Mauricio Pochettino was dismissed only three months into the new campaign in spite of a half-decade of unprecedented success with the club, things have gotten considerably worse.
Spurs haven’t won in three Premier League games. Evocative of the club’s feast-or-famine cadence to this season, it had won three in a row before that, and failed to win in four before that. Tottenham had risen as high as fifth place, which will likely produce a Champions League berth this season courtesy of City’s European ban, but it has now been dumped back to eighth.
On Saturday, a feckless tie at Burnley had been written off by Mourinho ahead of time. He claimed that his team could beat either the Clarets on Saturday or RB Leipzig on Tuesday in the Champions League round of 16, but not both. The club is in the midst of an injury crisis that has ravaged its corps of forwards, knocking out both star striker Harry Kane and his only real alternative, Heung-min Son. The Portuguese manager described his team as a “gun without bullets.”
So after a slew of players rested over the weekend, Mourinho nevertheless framed his side as the prohibitive underdog in the second leg in Leipzig, after a 1-0 loss at home in the first leg. “We have nothing to lose,” he said. “We are already losing.”
But it was to no avail. Leipzig scored two goals within 20 minutes and a third late on, and it was all over before it had really begun. Because Spurs offered up absolutely no resistance, looking like broken men. The uncompelling 3-0 loss – 4-0 on aggregate – felt like a small mercy, diminishing the true width of the chasm between the teams. Spurs produced just one shot in the first half. It was off-target.
And an honest accounting would note that Leipzig is in its own slump. Its Bundesliga title challenge is quickly collapsing. Julian Nagelsmann’s side has won just two of its last seven league games and now trails Bayern Munich by five points and Borussia Dortmund by four.
All the same, it had a straightforward time against Spurs. If an uninformed observer had to guess which of these teams had made the Champions League final last year, with much the same squad, they’d surely have guessed it was RB Leipzig.
All night long, the hosts kept finding inviting pockets of space in the Spurs’ third. In just the 10th minute, Marcel Sabitzer got to wind up for a shot outside the box and whacked it past Hugo Lloris (via Turner Sports):
Some 10 minutes later, Spurs right back Serge Aurier botched a routine clearance, creating an opportunity for Leipzig. Angelino served the cross up to Sabitzer, whose header beat Lloris at his near post to double the score:
Spurs had a single chance of note late in the first half, when Giovani Lo Celso cut inside from the flank and curled a shot to the far post. But Peter Gulasci sprawled and saved well. Meanwhile, at the other end, a defensive scramble in the Spurs box very nearly resulted in the ball being bundled into the visitors’ own net. It was a sorry sight.
In a sluggish second half, Tottenham gained a bit more a foothold in the game. But aside from a scuffed Dele Alli shot, it didn’t much matter. Besides, substitute Emil Forsberg swept in a third goal in the 87th minute when a ball wasn’t cleared competently.
You can confidently predict how Mourinho will frame this European elimination, a third straight European defeat and a sixth consecutive failure to win in all competitions. He’ll blame the injuries, the lack of strikers. Never mind that a transfer window just happened and Spurs have known since Jan. 1 that Kane would be out for much of the remaining season. And never mind that lots of other teams are dealing with injuries too – that Manchester United is surging in spite of losing striker Marcus Rashford (and Paul Pogba too, for what it’s worth).
Mourinho will moan that he wants the season to be over already and start fresh this summer. But there’s no hiding the fact that, injuries or not, his remaining players are far worse as a collective than the sum of their parts. And that a Spurs return to the Champions League next season now looks improbable, ending a four-year run.
There’s no hiding the performances or the hopeless wafting off the team. Or that the bottom is falling out.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist and a sports communication lecturer at Marist College. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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