As Mauricio Pochettino offered an explanation of why Tottenham Hotspur’s emerging Premier League title challenge had stalled so quickly, it was hard to avoid the view their bid for success on four fronts could once again leave the club empty-handed.
The 3-1 home defeat by Wolverhampton Wanderers on Saturday was utterly deflating for Pochettino’s side, who had thrillingly moved into second place on the back of a 6-2 defeat of Everton and a 5-0 thrashing of Bournemouth.
Their time spent as the nearest challengers to leaders Liverpool, however, lasted just four days and they travel to Cardiff City on Tuesday desperately seeking a win to revive the belief they can last the pace in the title race.
Pochettino, the Spurs manager, cited mental fatigue as a possible reason for his players’ lethargic second half display against Wolves and you could see his point.
– World Cup letdown –
The north London club had more representatives in the semi-finals of the World Cup than any other and it would be hardly surprising if the effects of a draining, exhilarating but ultimately disappointing summer campaign for eight of those nine players — France’s winning captain Hugo Lloris being the exception — lingered.
They certainly haven’t returned to a straightforward season with their club.
The delays to the opening of their new stadium means Wembley has unexpectedly remained Spurs’ temporary home.
And the drama that accompanied the Champions League group stage means Pochettino’s players have already endured more than their fair share of nerve-jangling cliffhangers as they qualified despite claiming just one point from the opening three games.
Tottenham’s progress into January’s two-legged League Cup semi-final with capital foes Chelsea was hardly sedate given they had to overcome a quarter-final visit to north London rivals Arsenal to claim a place in the last four.
Next Friday sees Spurs start their FA Cup campaign with a visit to fourth-tier Tranmere Rovers, a further addition to an already-congested holiday fixture schedule.
The counter to all that is that a club with ambitions of challenging for major trophies must expect to face those kinds of demands.
And that is where criticism of Tottenham’s failure to bring in any new players during the pre-season transfer window resurfaces.
Squad depth is so often the key to success and while Tottenham’s success in keeping the current group of players together was admirable, right now it appears as though fresh additions would be welcome.
That is particularly so given Son Heung-min will join up with South Korea at the Asian Cup in mid-January at a time when he is arguably Pochettino’s form player.
Pochettino will be assessing all the possible factors and with Manchester United reportedly on his trail, the Argentinian would appear to be in a strong position to influence Spurs’ future direction, particularly in the transfer market.
Clearly after repeatedly falling short in recent title races, there is something preventing the club — last crowned champions of England way back in 1961 — making that next step up.
Lifting the League Cup would be a good start. The trophy has proved to be a launchpad for a number of teams who have gone on to become champions having acquired the winning habit in the least prestigious of the English game’s three main domestic competitions.
More important, though, would be to strengthen the squad. As impressive as Pochettino’s side can be, they lack the consistency of Liverpool or Manchester City who can both change more players, more often with little negative effect on their results.