Mauricio Pochettino was not a happy man as he saw his Tottenham side throw away a lead to lose at Southampton on Saturday and seriously dent their chances of finishing in the top four this season.
Pochettino was sat up in the stands at St Mary’s as he served the first match of his two-game touchline ban. In the first half it was all going to plan as Harry Kane scored and Spurs were superb.
Somehow they only went in 1-0 up at half time and then all hell broke loose in the second half as Southampton fought back to win 2-1 with goals from Yan Valery and James Ward-Prowse.
Speaking to reporters after the game, Pochettino didn’t hold back from hammering his players for a tepid second half display.
“We didn’t take the second half seriously,” Pochettino said. “I don’t want to be too critical because overall I think we were better. But when you lose a game that after 45 minutes was under control, creating so many chances, and you lose the game 2-1 it is so difficult to accept.”
Pochettino added that it was “like the game was over before it had finished” and his players took too many unnecessary risks.
“It is difficult to understand the second half. We stopped to fight, to be aggressive, and gave belief to the opponent. In the second half, it is difficult to understand why we changed a lot,” Pochettino said. “In the way we started to play in the second half, it was like we didn’t expect too much from the opponent. In football you must respect the opponent.”
Consider that the nail hit firmly on the head.
Spurs thought they had won the game at half time. They battered Southampton in the first half and hit the woodwork twice as well as Harry Kane scoring. But they lost, and now, with trips to Liverpool and Man City to come in their final eight games of the season, they are up against it to finish in the top four.
Pochettino knows it, as his side have now lost three of their last four games and sit in third place, just five points above sixth-place Chelsea who have two games in hand.
“It is good because a lot of people now are going to realize our real level,” Pochettino said, before adding. “We are fighting against big sides (for the top four). We had a big gap, that maybe wasn’t real, now welcome to the reality. We are under going to be under pressure to win games. It is a massive challenge for us to keep our position.”
Spurs now have three weeks off to mull over this result, as their next game is at Liverpool on Mar. 31.
With Dele Alli back fit, a place in the Champions League last eight and their new stadium finally having an opening date, there was a lot of positivity around Tottenham going into this clash. Not anymore. And now Pochettino, once again from the stands, must make sure his team can focus for 90 minutes when they play Liverpool at Anfield at the end of March.
They are now without a win in their last four Premier League games, so is this a reality check for Spurs?
“Maybe that is our reality? People talk about perception but maybe we need to realize that in the Premier League, if we do not fight with the same intensity to the Champions League, you can struggle. That is a good point,” Pochettino said. “The reality is you can’t only fight for 45 minutes and you think it is going to be easy because we are a team in the Champions League quarterfinals. That is so dangerous.”