For all the talk of getting back to winning ways and beginning a positive campaign in the Europa League, an under-strength Tottenham were far from their fluid best in Belgium and slumped to a 1-0 defeat to Gent at the Ghelamco Arena. Midfielder Mousa Dembele, who featured in his native country on the night, has since spoken out about the defeat, suggesting that the North Londoners were guilty of complacency against their lesser opposition and that defeat in Gent must be a wake-up call for Mauricio Pochettino’s men, who have now suffered back-to-back defeats in all competitions.
Tottenham will now be forced to overturn their one-goal deficit in the return leg at Wembley, where they have only won once in Europe this season, but run the risk of Gent netting an away goal, having failed to get one of their own to fall back on this week.
“We knew it wouldn’t be an easy game but they were much sharper than us,” Dembele told the Guardian.
“I think we underestimated Gent. Generally, I think they wanted it more than us. They were sharper, more motivated than us. I hope this game has opened our eyes. I hope we show double our attitude next week. And that we really want it.”
Despite the fact that Pochettino had shaken up his side for the trip to Belgium, it was a team that with the right application and attitude should have had enough to win the game. Yet, they were the lesser of the two on the night, and succumbed to Jeremy Perbet’s winner just before the hour, one of the great shocks amongst Thursday night’s fixtures. It will take a major change of tact for Spurs to overhaul the deficit at the national stadium, where Pochettino’s men just haven’t been able to get going, as well as get out of the current run of form they find themselves in. With a trip to Fulham in the FA Cup to come, the side can ill-afford another upset.
The result is also sure to re-ignite the debate as to whether the Europa League should be deemed an important enough trophy to pursue seriously, or whether it is simply a distraction. The lethargic showing Spurs put in on the night, certainly suggests that the congestion to the fixture schedule caused by the extra European games is certainly taking its toll, even with Pochettino making changes.
Harry Kane, who completed the full 90 minutes in Belgium but was ineffective on the night, maybe assessed after picking up a knock to his knee late-on. According to Sky Sports, the forward has dismissed the possibility that the injury is serious, and hopes to be in contention for the weekend FA Cup clash at Craven Cottage. Manager Mauricio Pochettino however, has hinted in his most recent comments that the cup match is the more likely one for players to be rested.
“We need to assess some players,” Pochettino told the Guardian. “Harry Kane got a knock on his knee, different players too … we need to refresh the team, and we’ll do that. ‘Tottenham Hotspur’ will play in Fulham on Sunday. It’s not about the names of the players, it’s the club. We’ll see, but we’ll put out a team with aims to win and be ready again to compete.”
Michel Vorm and Kieran Trippier will be amongst the names of players on the fringes of the team who could be in contention to start at Fulham, whilst first-team players Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-Min, who were benched for the European tie in Belgium, may return at the weekend to supplement what will surely be another under-strength Spurs line-up. For all the promise of this Tottenham side, it will come to precious little if they fail to win a trophy, and with the FA Cup and Europa League their two only realistic chances remaining, these next few weeks starting from this weekend may well define their season.
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