Mauricio Pochettino made the candid admission that his Tottenham Hotspur squad had found the group phase of the Champions League to be a step too far, as he suggested that changes on all levels, including personnel, would be needed to move them forward.
The manager watched his team lose 2-1 at Monaco to exit the competition and he was particularly upset by what proved to be the winning goal. Harry Kane had equalised from the penalty spot but Monaco swept forward direct from the kick-off to restore their lead through Thomas Lemar.
Tottenham remain unbeaten after 12 games of the Premier League season – they are fifth in the table – but Pochettino said they had failed to balance the demands of what he considers to be the toughest division in the world with those of the Champions League.
“We are unbeaten in the Premier League, close to the top but to compete in the Champions League was tough,” Pochettino said. “Maybe next season, if we are in the Champions League, we need to make some changes. After two and a half years, we have reduced the gap at the top of the Premier League but to be competitive in that and the Champions League, we need to show more.
“Maybe we need to add more quality in the squad. We have quality, yes, to compete in the Premier League but, today, you could say we struggled a little bit. When you have problems, injuries, it is difficult to be competitive. At the moment, to compete in the Champions League and the Premier League, we struggle a little bit.”
Tottenham’s exit from Group E has been characterised by errors at both ends of the field and by a lack of ruthlessness; of streetwise edge. “The challenge is not physical and tactical – it is to manage your mind,” Pochettino said.
“To play Saturday and then Tuesday or Wednesday is like playing continuously in the Premier League. We struggled to be ready to compete in every game. Monaco had played their league game last Friday night whereas we played against West Ham on Saturday night and it was like a final.
“To be ready again was difficult. It’s not an excuse. We did not show enough quality but we need to improve our mentality. That’s our challenge – to be ready, everyone to be better.”
Pochettino said he simply could not explain the collective switch-off for Lemar’s goal but it was the latest example of the lack of focus that has cost Spurs their involvement in Europe’s elite competition. “It is difficult to explain the way we conceded the second goal,” he said. “If you want to go to the last 16, you cannot conceded a goal like this.”
Tottenham will drop into the Europa League, if they avoid defeat in the final group tie against CSKA Moscow at Wembley. “It is good for the club to be in the Europa League and go further in the competition,” Pochettino said. “But remember last season we played Dortmund [in the Europa League], we struggled a bit and that level was like the Champions League. We are in a process and we need to improve.”
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