LONDON — Mauricio Pochettino knew his side had let a big moment slip through their grasp on Wednesday at Wembley Stadium in front of an expectant crowd.
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Tottenham Hotspur lost 2-1 to AS Monaco on their return to the UEFA Champions League group stage after a five year absence. Spurs fluffed their lines, big time.
Speaking to reporters after the game Pochettino criticized his players for a “lack of passion” as 85,011 fans packed into Wembley, Tottenham’s temporary home for UCL games while renovation works continues at White Hart Lane, and saw his side fall 2-0 behind in the first half.
The main problem was passion, according to Pochettino, and it was difficult for him to accept.
“We needed to show more passion. We showed a lack of passion today, a little bit. We cannot concede the goal we did,” Pochettino said. “That is the truth. It is a shame because today was a good opportunity to give to our fans a big performance and victory. I think we were better than Monaco. I think we all agree but to win the games you need to show more, create more and be more aggressive without the ball.”
After falling behind 2-0 to Monaco’s first two shots on target Spurs pulled one back through Toby Alderweireld‘s header on half time but it wasn’t enough as they now have plenty of work to do in Group E after succumbing to a professional and ruthless Monaco outfit.
“We concede a goal that you cannot concede at this level in Premier League and Champions League,” Pochettino said. “When you play for Tottenham it is difficult to accept but not only the first but the second is the same. We can speak about many things but 2-0 down, very difficult. It is true that we created more chances, more corners, more shots, more possession. We were better than Monaco but they were more effective than us.”
One of the main reasons others are pointing the finger at Spurs for a sloppy display was after Pochettino’s decision to start with Dele Alli and Eric Dier in central midfield instead of Mousa Dembele or Victor Wanyama alongside Dier in the deeper role.
At half time Pochettino brought on Dembele and pushed Alli further forward and Spurs looked much better.
ProSoccerTalk asked Pochettino about that switch and he said, in as many words, he’d have changed most of his players at the break if the rules allowed it.
“I was clear with my players at half time… I cannot change the rules. It is not a basketball game where you can change all the team. Maybe in my position I would change,” Pochettino said. “But I think that we needed more control of the ball and more creativity in the central midfield and the position for Dele Alli to push a little more on the pitch and create more to be more aggressive.”
Pochettino wouldn’t let the passion narrative go, though.
After callimg for “more hunger” from his players after first half lapses, Pochettino admitted he wanted a “different image” from his side. Pochettino refused to blame the sice of the pitch — the Wembley pitch is much bigger than White Hart Lane — for failing to allow Spurs to implement their famous high-pressing style.
Even if Monaco’s coach Leonardo Jardim believed the stadium switch impacted Spurs’ usual style of play, Pochettino was having none of it and was instead furious about the way his side played in the first half.
Asked about the “lack of passion” later in his press conference, the Argentine manager again emphasized that Spurs had a longing feeling of “what if?” following defeat on their long-awaited return to the Champions League.
“When I talk about passion, it is to feel more,” Pochettino said. “I think it was a fantastic opportunity and we waited a lot for Champions League and we fight a lot last season to be here and your feeling is like ‘why didn’t we do more?'”