Tottenham need to stop licking their wounds after Juventus, respond vs. Bournemouth
So near, so far. Spurs' defeat to Juventus in the Champions League will feel like a hammer blow. At half-time, it looked for the all world as if Tottenham had done all the hard work. As in the away leg at the Allianz Stadium three weeks earlier, they had dominated possession, pressed the Italians back into their own half and -- a rash challenge from Jan Vertonghen that might have resulted in a penalty apart -- had left their opponents to feed off scraps. Best of all, they had taken a one-goal lead through a scuffed Son Heung-min shot leaving Juve needing to score twice on the night. Their only regret was that they hadn't converted their chances and gone into the break with an even bigger cushion.
Then their inexperience told. The inexperience not just of the team at this level but of the manager too. For what happened next, Mauricio Pochettino was every bit as much to blame as his players. Spurs appeared to come out for the second half without a game plan. Unsure whether to continue playing the pressing game that had served them so well in the first half or to sit back, nullify the Italian threat and see out the game. In the end, they achieved neither and fell between both stools.
By contrast, the Italians came out for the second 45 minutes with a clear strategy. They knew they were struggling to compete with Spurs in pure footballing terms, so they changed tack to beat them with the experience of street fighters. They began by disrupting Spurs with a series of heavy challenges. Sure, they picked up a few yellow cards in the process but they achieved their objective of getting inside the minds of key Tottenham players. Dele Alli was visibly niggled and began to retaliate. Thereafter he was noticeably less effective.
Then, just on the hour mark the Juve manager, Massimiliano Allegri, made a double substitution and switched formation. Pochettino failed to spot the danger and within a matter of minutes the Italians had scored the two goals they needed. Even then, the Spurs manager failed to react. Tottenham needed at least one goal to take the tie into extra time so the need for fresh legs was clear. Juve's back four may be street-wise, but they are getting on and not particularly mobile. The situation was crying out for a player who would be prepared to run at the Juve defence and put them under pressure. Someone like Lucas Moura, who in his few outings since his transfer from Paris Saint-Germain in January, has consistently proved himself a potent threat.
Instead Pochettino delayed. And delayed. After 74 minutes, he eventually put on Erik Lamela: a player whose first instinct is usually to cut inside and play sideways and who hasn't looked at his best since his return from injury. Then with less than five minutes left, he introduced Fernando Llorente: a striker who -- a second-half hat trick against League One Rochdale apart -- has been largely ineffective. Even though Pochettino still had one substitution left to his disposal, Moura remained on the bench.
Sure, Spurs had every right to feel a bit hard done. Son went close and Harry Kane had a header that bounced off the post and ran agonisingly along the goal line, but the fact is that Tottenham were outdone by a team with decades of European experience who had the resilience and the tactical nous to find a way to win. Spurs were like the innocents who had come up from the country for the day only to be pick-pocketed by a team of professionals.
In the long run, Spurs can only benefit from the experience. Make no mistake, if they find themselves in a similar situation in the coming years, neither Pochettino nor the players will get caught out again. But that's for the future. The important thing now is for Tottenham to bounce back fast against Bournemouth on Sunday. They need to make sure of a top-four finish and nothing less than three points will do.
Here the omens are good. Often this season, after a good performance in the Champions League, Spurs have let their standards slip. It's been as though the excitement of playing against the likes of Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund have left them drained and they haven't been able to raise themselves for a mere Premier League game against opposition they are expected to beat.
There should be no danger of that happening against Bournemouth. The Spurs players have a point to prove and they can thrive off the anger they are certainly feeling at letting a Champions League quarter-final berth slip through their fingers. Toby Alderweireld is still injured and there are slight doubts about Eric Dier who picked up a knock to his elbow on Wednesday. But assuming Dier is fit, Pochettino should have one of the easiest team selections of his career. Send out the same team as he did against Juve and let them show the world that they are too good to be caught napping twice in a row.
John Crace is one of ESPN FC's Tottenham bloggers. Follow him on Twitter @JohnJCrace.