Tottenham must get a grip or risk being cut adrift in Premier League
It's not just the fact that Tottenham have dropped eight points in their last four Premier League outings that gives cause for concern. It's the manner in which they have dropped them. In 1-0 and 2-0 defeats to Manchester United and Arsenal they were far too passive, almost as if their only ambition was to come away from Old Trafford and the Emirates unbeaten. They lacked the ambition to live up to their prematch billing as narrow favourites and got punished for their mistakes.
Even more worrying was last Saturday's 1-1 draw at home to West Brom. Spurs started the game as if they were suffering from a collective hangover. There was no energy or snap to their game and they barely managed a single shot on target in the first 45 minutes. By which time they were a goal down thanks to lapses of concentration and commitment by Dele Alli and Davinson Sanchez. Spurs did go up a gear in the second half but by then they were playing catch-up with much of their build-up play carrying an air of desperation.
The Premier League title looks to be Manchester City's to lose with just one third of the season gone and Spurs find themselves in a real fight for a top four place. They have dropped to fifth and unless they can turn in a decent performance away to Leicester on Tuesday night, could find themselves even further adrift by the following night as Arsenal and Chelsea have what appear to be relatively comfortable home matches against Huddersfield and Swansea respectively.
So what's going wrong? Though manager Mauricio Pochettino once more brought up the difficulties of playing at Wembley in his postmatch news conference after the West Brom game, the reality is that excuse no longer holds much credibility. Spurs have produced three thrilling performances at their temporary ground this season -- against Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool and Real Madrid -- so the fans and the players know they can turn it on when they really want to.
That Spurs only appear able to deliver their very best against the top sides when the eyes of the world are on them suggests the club's mindset is not quite right. A measure of the very best teams is that they can still lift themselves to beat inferior opposition on a cold day when only the die-hard fans of both teams are watching. Last season, Tottenham managed to do that successfully, winning 16 and drawing three of their home games. It didn't matter if a team came to White Hart Lane intent on putting 10 men behind the ball: Spurs had the desire, ingenuity and belief to break them down. This season it has been a different story.
It's hard not to imagine that events off the field are having an impact on it. In particular the saga of Danny Rose's on-off-on-off-on transfer to Manchester United. In the past week or so, there have been rumours of yet another bust-up between Rose and Pochettino after the left-back was omitted from the squad for the Arsenal game. Relations between player and coach show no signs of improving, with each man seemingly becoming ever more intransigent. Rumours at the weekend were that the club are ready to sell Rose to United during the January transfer window.
If true, this would be an act of supreme self-harm on Tottenham's behalf. Rose might be behaving like a spoiled brat but the fact is that Spurs need him. And to sell to one of the club's biggest rivals should be unthinkable. Pochettino needs to find a way of working with Rose, not against him. Since Kyle Walker was sold to Manchester City and Rose has been largely sidelined, Spurs have looked to be a much less potent threat.
Much has been written about Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Alli not combining through the middle to such lethal effect as last season but equally Spurs have lost the deadly pace and penetration down the flanks. Kieran Trippier seems to have lost the confidence to take on defenders and go past them, while Ben Davies has also looked well short of the quality he displayed during the closing months of last season. To sell Rose while Davies is in indifferent form and with no obvious back-up would be madness.
Other players also look unsettled, either by contract negotiations or by prospects of a move at the end of the season. It's time for the club and the players to get a grip on themselves. They are well paid professional footballers and it is time they acted like that. Every fan is enjoying the Champions League run, but that is really the icing on the cake.
What really counts is the Premier League. Spurs need to take a long hard look at themselves and start showing the same commitment and enthusiasm in the less fancied games as they do in the glamour games. Leicester City on Tuesday would be a good place to start.
John Crace is one of ESPN FC's Tottenham bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @JohnJCrace.