London: Tottenham’s miserable start to the season shows little sign of improving quickly, but prior to Red Star Belgrade’s visit on Tuesday, Spurs can take some solace from the fact they are in a better position in the Champions League than they were 12 months ago.
Last year, defeats to Inter Milan and Barcelona saw them travel to PSV Eindhoven for what manager Mauricio Pochettino described as a “must-win”. After a 2-2 draw in the Netherlands, Pochettino admitted his side’s Champions League campaign was “nearly over.”
Yet, eight months later, the Argentine had led Tottenham to their first ever Champions League final.
The hangover from defeat to Liverpool in that final in Madrid has been long and sobering. Spurs have won just three of their opening 12 games in all competitions this season.
Chances of a first trophy under Pochettino in the League Cup have already gone after an embarrassing exit on penalties to fourth-tier Colchester and they are already five points off the pace just for a place in the Premier League’s top four.
However, Pochettino admitted that the most damaging defeat of all came last time out in the Champions League, when Bayern Munich ran riot in the second-half to leave London 7-2 winners.
“After Bayern Munich our confidence was on the floor,” said Pochettino after a 1-1 draw at home to the Premier League’s bottom club Watford on Saturday.
The heaviest defeat ever suffered at home by an English side in European competition may have had a lasting effect, but it is not terminal to Tottenham’s chances of again pulling themselves off the canvas and into the Champions League last 16.
Beat the Serbian champions at home on Tuesday and they will move into second place in Group B, as long as Olympiakos don’t shock Bayern in Greece.
Doubt has been cast over Pochettino’s capability to rouse another response from largely the same group of players into his sixth season in charge.
Captain Hugo Lloris is sidelined until 2020 leaving substitute goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga to hold the fort at the back.
New signings Ryan Sessegnon and Giovani lo Celso are not yet close to a return to first-team action after lengthy injury layoffs and club record buy Tanguy Ndombele was left on the bench for the visit of Watford after an inconsistent start to his Spurs career.
Red Star’s visit will give another indication as to whether Pochettino’s men have the energy to rise again or really are a spent force.
Real Madrid face a tough test at Galatasaray as they chase their first Champions League win of the season.
Madrid are in last place in Group A after losing 3-0 at Paris St-Germain before barely saving face in a 2-2 draw with visiting Club Brugge.
Coach Zinedine Zidane’s preparations are far from ideal for Tuesday’s game in Istanbul after his heavily rotated squad surrendered their Spanish league lead on the weekend in a 1-0 loss at Mallorca.
Last season’s worries were supposed to disappear after Zidane returned to take over Madrid’s dysfunctional team. But the problems have continued through an expensive summer rebuilding campaign and an unconvincing start to La Liga.
Injuries haven’t helped. Luka Modric, Gareth Bale, Toni Kroos and Lucas Vazquez are all doubtful for the game against Galatasaray.
Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois has faced heavy criticism amid questions from supporters over why he was preferred to Keylor Navas, who joined PSG in the offseason.
Shakhtar Donetsk v Dinamo Zagreb, 8.55pm
Atletico Madrid v Leverkusen, 8.55pm
Club Brugge v PSG, 11pm
Galatasaray v Real Madrid, 11pm
Tottenham v Red Star Belgrade
Olympiakos v Bayern Munich, 11pm
Manchester City v Atalanta, 11pm
Juventus v Lokomotiv Moscow, 11pm