We had to leave the country to finally find someone to comprehensively outclass us. OptaJoe getting all dizzy in the aftermath. First time we've lost by more than one goal. First time we've gone three games without a win. CRISIS.
I could spend a little time reasoning and talking about how astonishing this season has been in terms of how far we've come, how we've changed. Could? Obviously I will, being the eternal optimist that prefers not to drown in agenda and the desire to be proved right all the time.
The Tottenham landscape has been cultivated with each step we've taken. It's now lush with colour, no more barren wastelands and desolate horizons. All this in a single season, winter and all. From the defaulted acceptance of constant and persistent mediocrity to the modern day disdain we have for a single defeat, even in its rarity. These are good times but we're allowed to let off some steam once in a while when it all goes t*ts up. It doesn't mean we can't strive for more perfection. We have to be able to highlight the deficiencies that will hold us back from time to time. I'm talking about the coach and his players, not just us.
It wasn't the right fit, the starting eleven. I'm not sure if it can be classed as a mistake from Mauricio Pochettino. Can it? Naivety perhaps or a calculated risk that was too much to handle for the relatively sub-par spine. But then we are very deliberate with our preparation so he trusted the players to do a job, they just weren't up to scratch. The centre-piece of Carroll and Mason could hardly be expected to combat the might of Dortmund. Did we display a lack of respect or was this the best we could muster up considering injuries and players in need of a rest? A bit of both I guess.
Long term we'll need more depth (doesn't every club every season search for the same impossible equilibrium?) Key cover will make a difference the stronger this group of players get, which means when you lose/bench say Dembele, Rose, Dier, Alli and Kane - you can replace them with players of equal quality. Impossible right? At least for this season regardless of the lack of activity in January (which still might not have helped us because of the manner in which Poch transitions players into the system). Looks at Son, a top player but one that has struggled with finding his groove post-injury. It's not as straight forward as we like to believe, bringing someone in to 'cover'. It makes the balance is a little tougher to manage from one week to the next.
I'm doing it again. Reasoning. I said I would. Saying it's okay for this smackdown to happen because it no longer happens that often, isn't really okay. It's another form of acceptance, just several levels higher than losing every other week. It's disappointing. It's also unavoidable. A full strength Spurs side might have still lost, but perhaps kept us in the tie with an away goal. Maybe. Who knows. But that extra zap of energy would impact the next game and so on. I often want us to be full strength every game, just go for the jugular. It's why I'm a supporter and not a professional coach.
I do think we've getting stretched and it's a direct consequence of our progression on the pitch and without a doubt because of the league place we currently sit in. At the start of the season, Pochettino wasn't too crazy with the rotation. We all had reservations about our starting squad and lack of transfers in. Yet because of the tight group of players and that lack of mixing them around - it gave us the team we have now. It gave us Dier and Alli and the rest of it. The identity and work ethos. A style of football that for a long time wasn't very evident but was obviously being slow cooked on the training field. So where we are now is because of everything we did to get here, regardless of the flaws (in this case lack of cover) in some of the approach work.
You can tactically pull apart the selection or talk about players and fatigue and again it all comes down to the reality of the situation. The whole aspect of believing is not about closing your eyes and hoping all the monsters under the bed disappear. It's coming to and understanding, a realisation that there are no monsters there. The whole aspect of belief is when you know you can win and make certain of it. All eyes on the weekend.
Dortmund we're comfortable. Beyond comfortable. They're 2nd in their league and a mass of points free of third spot. Full strength with superior team dynamics. They are a finished article compared to our work in progress. The result illustrated the gap that exists and how much work we'd need to do with player acquisitions in the imminent future to step up.
One step at a time. We've got a solid foundation, we need to build on it come the summer.
The other illustration scribbled on a white flag is that for the most part, the Europa League has proved to be a masterful illusion of hope. The group games set expectancies as results are churned out and then you meet the teams that are actually serious about these games and are far more prepared to compete in them.
Cup games still remain a serious conflict for the supporters and for clubs/coaches and players. They're not the grab for glory we want them to be. They're calculated risks where you always consider the next league game ahead of the actual game you're about to play. We (for all of the above reasons) might not have much of a choice but still, it's not great that they feel like a chore.
I'm always weighing up the pros and cons. It's a chance for silverware but we've all turned into spreadsheet fanatics, formulating what can and can't be deleted. Sacrificed. Once more, it has everything to do with money and stature and 'top four' is the brand approved narrative all top clubs thrive on. The Europa, it seems took precedence over the other two domestic cups because of the exposure it offers. We got plenty of that in the Westfalenstadion. Pants pulled down.
I guarantee that if (don't want to jinx it) we're in the Champions League next season, watch how much easier it is for our players to be up for it and capable of League and European action. Of course, a lot of that has to do with a more forgiving fixture list and because there is no higher ground to reach. In the end, our best form domestically has come when the Europa League was on a break. Again testament to what focus on a single campaign with no real distractions can generate.
The Europa is designed to complement fallen CL teams and to keep the rest occupied enough not to challenge convincingly for anything else. Not always true for some continental sides that manage to juggle things fine thanks perhaps to a winters break. For us, the league is deemed more important for qualification (as worst case scenario) than a potentially distracting cup run. Bit late in the day, but there you go. I guess at some point we wanted both but it was too much to ask.
We've had to adapt this season, it's all been positive. The last three results on paper looks like our first major wobble. In context, we lost one after a run of six consecutive wins. We drew the next for a multitude of reasons (the game was a NLD) and then in Germany we got spanked because we played far too many impact players that have more influence off the bench individually than all together in the starting eleven.
The learning curve - especially with this 3-0 loss - has been harsh. No doubt, essential to improving next time round.
Live and learn.
Villa away next. We could go six points clear of third place. This is it now. Be it Champions League qualification, finishing above them lot or winning the league. Whether we have enough fuel left in the tank should never be a criticism because what we've burnt so far has given us this opportunity. If it's not enough then we know what the benchmark is for next time. Gonna need a bigger car.
Until it's impossible anything is possible.