‘Tottenham’s dramatic decline has come just at the crucial point’

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Tottenham Hotspur walked out at Liverpool with the door ajar for their Champions League hopes, only for Ange Postecoglou’s fading side to trip and fall flat on their faces at Anfield.

Do not be fooled by the 4-2 scoreline in Liverpool’s favour. It was flattery, doing Spurs a kindness their overall performance did not merit.

It must also not deceive anyone in the Spurs camp as the dramatic decline, in a season that held much promise and optimism at one time, continues its sharp downward curve at a crucial point.

Handed the opportunity to close a seven-point game on fourth-placed Aston Villa after they slipped up at Brighton, it made a woeful, passive approach – that played into Liverpool’s hands for the first 70 minutes – even more mystifying.

The only moment of serious aggression came as Spurs walked off at half-time 2-0 down and keeper Guglielmo Vicario added to his catalogue of stops by stepping in swiftly to separate what threatened to turn into an ugly spat between team-mates Cristian Romero and Emerson Royal.

Spurs were 4-0 down after an hour but spared further embarrassment by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp’s host of rhythm-disrupting changes, plus the sudden sloppiness of a side overcome by complacency because of the simplicity of their task.

Richarlison and Heung-min Son struck to raise some anxiety inside Anfield, but Postecoglou cannot be kidded by another display with brutally exposed the flaws in his approach – one the Australian seemingly has no intention of changing.

It is a high-risk strategy in all respects but his defiant stance on his ideology makes it look like a chance he is prepared to take. Best of luck to him.

Postecoglou’s upbeat post-match message was presumably the result of a desire not to give his players another lashing after his broadside last week at Chelsea, where they were beaten 2-0.

It was “glass half-full” analysis of a poor show, hopefully a gallant attempt to keep spirits up otherwise it veered dangerously close to delusion.

The wheels have fallen off the ‘Big Ange’ bandwagon in recent weeks and, for all his efforts at expectation management, there must still be disappointment if Spurs, as looks likely, miss out to Villa on the top four and Champions League football.

Yes, it is an improvement on last season. Yes, it is relatively early days in the Postecoglou project. Yes, they have been more pleasing on the eye than under Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte (not difficult admittedly) but when the pressure was on they failed to deliver again.

Spurs have shown the old lack of self-belief, hence why the frailties in their set-up – that make them far too easy to play and score against – have been brought into much sharper relief.

At their peak this season, they were top of the table on 3 November with 26 points after eight wins and two draws in their first 10 games. It seems an age ago now.

‘Spurs have done well to be fifth without Kane’

Spurs were vulnerable even when winning, but the glow of the change of mentality and tactics under the former Celtic manager meant the positive strategy that warmed fans far outweighed concerns about the chances they were conceding.

It has been scrappy for a while, as a return of 34 points from their next 25 games has proved.

Postecoglou has a point when he uses the early seasons of managers, such as Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, as an indicator of how progress can be a slow burner, but glaring problems have arisen as the season has gone on.

It would be ridiculous to suggest Spurs would not miss the world-class talent and influence of all-time record goalscorer Harry Kane after his departure to Bayern Munich. He was as close to irreplaceable as it gets and how they could have done with him. Yet Postecoglou, to his credit, has never used that as a mitigating circumstance for the recent slide.

In fact, given just how important Kane was to everything Spurs did, it can be argued they have actually done well to get to fifth in the Premier League table without him.

James Maddison, outstanding early in the season, has gone off the boil completely and was only introduced as a substitute at Anfield.

It all made for a fourth successive league loss, their longest since a sequence of six defeats back in November 2004. Spurs have only kept two clean sheets in their last 26 league games. It is not to see why when you watch games such as this and recent losses to Newcastle United, Arsenal and Chelsea.

Postecoglou’s first campaign will be viewed in a positive light no matter what happens between now and the end of the season, if only for banishing some of the memories of the stodge served up by predecessors Mourinho and Conte.

Most Spurs supporters are still very much aboard that Postecoglou bandwagon despite its breakdowns. He cannot realistically be expected to sweep away years of under-achievement in a single campaign.

The last few weeks, though, have been abysmal and no amount of polish can disguise that. It might be against his nature but surely there will be added pragmatism otherwise Spurs will always carry an air of vulnerability.

No Champions League football will have the feeling of another missed opportunity despite an improvement in their league placing – and this effort was just another bad Anfield memory.

Postecoglou is always keen stress there is so much more to do at Spurs before they are anywhere near what he wants. On this evidence he is not wrong.

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