Spurs crashed out of the Europa League to Dinamo Zagreb after squandering a 2-0 first-leg lead to lose 3-2 after extra-time in Croatia – a result that will raise significant questions about Jose Mourinho’s position.
While Spurs remained in the Europa League, Mourinho’s job felt secure, particularly given his history of twice winning the competition, and Tottenham’s season felt alive.
After this embarrassing defeat, however, Tottenham’s season is hanging by a thread, dependent now on an unlikely top-four finish or victory over Manchester City in the EFL Cup final to be a success.
If they play as poorly as they did against Dinamo, who were deserved winners thanks to a stunning hat-trick by Mislav Orsic, they have no chance of salvaging their crumbling season.
Freak results happens but more troubling was Tottenham’s performance. They looked like a side devoid of a plan, direction, belief, energy and ideas.
And all after Sunday’s abject north London derby defeat and against a limited Dinamo side without a manager after Zoran Mamic quit just days before the match after receiving a four-year prison sentence.
What must Harry Kane, who was forced to play 120 minutes in a tie that looked a foregone conclusion, be thinking?
Mourinho had spoken of taking the game to Dinamo despite Spurs’s comfortable first-leg lead thanks to Kane’s double, but the visitors were never in control of a flat first half, which the Croatians edged.
Orsic scored two brilliant strikes in the second half, aided by statuesque Spurs defending, and bagged a deserved clincher in extra-time after a brilliant run and shot.
Spurs tried to rally through Kane who had two efforts cleared off the line and was denied by a brave goalkeeping performance.
But Spurs did not deserve to progress and this felt like a nadir of Mourinho’s tenure. It is difficult to see where they go from here.
Villa big winners in immediate term
While the long-term consequences of this defeat could be significant, in the short-term this defeat was also the worst possible preparation for Sunday’s visit to Aston Villa, which now feels like a game Mourinho can scarcely afford not to win.
Mourinho started Kane in the hope of killing the tie early with an away goal, but instead the England captain slogged through 120 minutes, in common with several of his teammates.
Spurs also needed a host of key players from the bench, as an increasingly desperate Mourinho tried everything to get back in the tie.
The emotional scares may take even longer to heal and lifting these shattered and broken players for Sunday’s match will be a monumental challenge for Mourinho.
If there was a slither of a positive for Tottenham, it was the first sighting of Giovani Lo Celso since December.
The Argentine has been sidelined since pulling up against Leicester with a hamstring injury but he replaced the ineffective Dele after 67 minutes and was easily one of the visitors’ standout players, which admittedly wasn’t saying much.
Within seconds, he was responsible for one of Tottenham’s few credible chances, turning and firing a tame shot at goal which extended the goalkeeper after a deflection.
Despite such a lengthy layoff, Lo Celso showed glimpses of his usual poise and aggression, and his return to fitness will add competition in two positions as well as much-needed fight to a side which was sorely lacking it in Croatia.