Dubai: Only 12 months ago, Tottenham Hotspur were on the march to the Uefa Champions League final. In early March 2019, they were about to embark on a journey of knockout proportions that saw them account for German giants Borussia Dortmund, Premier League champions Manchester City and the Dutch wonderkids of Ajax before finally succumbing to Liverpool in Madrid.
Now, they are a shadow of that team who came within 90 minutes of becoming the champions of Europe. Gone is manager Mauricio Pochettino — a victim of a dreadful run of results in the Premier League that saw him replaced by Jose Mourinho. Gone, too, for the foreseeable future are the twin strike threats of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, who are both consigned to the treatment table for lengthy spells.
Gone too will be this season’s foray into Europe if they cannot find a solution to their many on-field woes, with Tuesday’s return leg against RB Leipzig looming large.
Spurs do not have a recognised striker to rely on as they travel to Germany having lost the first leg 1-0 in London last month, thanks to a Timo Werner penalty.
Spurs have also desperately been lacking leadership in the middle of the field since Eden Hazard left in the summer for Real Madrid and are leaking goals — league defeats to Chelsea and Wolves, a draw with Burnley and an FA Cup humbling by Norwich have all followed the Leipzig loss with eight goals conceded.
It is difficult to see how Mourinho can lift his players, given the Portuguese has begun pointing fingers of blame at his players — behaviour that signalled the beginning of the end of his tenure at Manchester United last year.
Goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris was doing his best on Monday to see the bright side. “We have to take everything positive but I think it belongs to the past, we need to write new stories,” he said, referring to the memorable comeback win over Ajax last season.
“We have to go there and be ready to make the perfect game, we have to go there to win the game. It is as simple as that.”
Leipzig are in the title fight in Germany’s Bundesliga while Spurs languish down in eighth spot in the Premier League, struggling to even make the European spots for the next campaign.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen for the rest of the season but we need to keep faith and keep working,” said Lloris.
Spurs will need much more than faith if they are to halt Leipzig.
In Tuesday’s other match, it looks like a formality as Atalanta have a 4-1 lead from the first leg as they travel to Valencia. The home side will not even have their vociferous support to lift them as the match that will be played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus outbreak. The only uncertainty on the horizon is where Atalanta will play their ‘home’ tie in the next round as their ground and their European home — Milan’s San Siro — is under quarantine due to the COVID-19 outbreak.