Tuesday 23 October 2018 6:29 pm

PSV Eindhoven v Tottenham: Mauricio Pochettino's side need to grind out a win to keep the project on track


It wasn’t supposed to be like this for Tottenham.

Their third consecutive season in the Champions League was meant to see the club push on and compete with Europe’s elite inside their shiny new stadium.

But after two games they are already at a make-or-break stage. Successive defeats by Inter Milan and Barcelona – each disappointing in their own way – leaves Mauricio Pochettino’s side needing a result against PSV Eindhoven in Holland tomorrow to preserve a realistic chance of reaching the last 16.

Read more: Arsenal 3-1 Leicester: Five things we learned

And while Pochettino insisted this week they were “miles ahead” in the project conceived when he joined the club from Southampton in May 2014, there is pressure to deliver against Group B’s weakest side.

As the Argentine succinctly put it: “If we are not capable of winning this type of game we cannot win the title.”

Having beaten Borussia Dortmund and reigning champions Real Madrid in the group stage last season, Tottenham's aims to challenge Europe’s very best are realistic.

West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League
Erik Lamela has stepped up to fill the void made by Dele Alli and Son Heung-min's absence (Source: Getty)

But the nature of their late capitulation, having taken a deserved lead, to lose 2-1 in Milan and in being thoroughly outclassed by a Lionel Messi-inspired Barcelona at Wembley have left questions over their current state.

Tottenham are enjoying their best ever start to a Premier League season, sitting alongside rivals Chelsea and Arsenal on 21 points from nine games.

Yet aside from their clinical second-half 3-0 dismantling of Manchester United in August it has been an under-the-radar few months, defined by grinding out results rather than free-wheeling progress.

Tottenham Hotspur v FC Barcelona - UEFA Champions League Group B
Tottenham couldn't deal with Lionel Messi in Barcelona's 4-2 win at Wembley earlier this month (Source: Getty)

Newcastle, Brighton, Cardiff and West Ham have all been seen off by a single goal. With Dele Alli injured, Son Heung-min largely absent with South Korea and Christian Eriksen less influential due to a stomach issue, it’s fallen to Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela to flank figurehead Harry Kane.

They have done an admirable job, but Pochettino’s side have been functional rather than lethal.

Looked at one way, both Spurs’s league position and overall standing is validation of chairman Daniel Levy’s apparent happiness with the squad, but another reading is that they’re simply doing well to paper over the cracks.

Casting an eye back over the 2017-18 campaign offers some clues to Tottenham’s current predicament.

By this point last season they had just one fewer point than they have now. However, they had also beaten Everton, West Ham and Huddersfield away from home by a cumulative score of 10-2 and made a statement by thrashing Liverpool 4-1.

West Ham United v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League
The nature of Spurs's wins have been very different this season (Source: Getty)

In the Champions League, Dortmund had been defeated 3-1, Apoel 3-0 and a 1-1 with Real Madrid had been claimed at the Santiago Bernabeu.

So far this season, Spurs have found a way to win games they were expected to, but have faltered against those they intend to emulate. As the season rolls on that will need to be addressed, but for the task at hand their pattern may well prove useful.

PSV have steamrollered all challengers in the Eredivisie, winning all nine matches with a goal difference of 33 but, like Spurs, have lost to both Barca and Inter.

Tottenham head to Holland with five victories from their seven away games in all competitions this season. They need another to grind out another to keep their European dream alive.