Tottenham’s return to the Champions League didn’t go as planned.
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LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 14: Mauricio Pochettino, Manager of Tottenham Hotspur and Leonardo Jardim head coach of AS Monaco look on during the UEFA Champions League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and AS Monaco FC at Wembley Stadium on September 14, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Leading up to Tottenham’s opening group stage match against AS Monaco, Mauricio Pochettino said that it would be an “emotional moment” for the club and their fans.
And during the pre-match ceremonies it certainly was. Spurs would stand toe-to-toe with Europe’s elite once again and hear the famous Champions League anthem in front of a record crowd of 85,000-plus fans.
Unfortunately, Monaco ruined the party early in the match and would eventually leave London with a 2-1 win at Wembley Stadium.
Spurs didn’t necessarily play that bad, instead, Monaco were that much better from start to finish. Monaco’s league form — currently atop Ligue 1 — carried over into this match. The same could be said of Spurs, who have underperformed lately.
Both clubs entered the match undefeated in their domestic campaigns, but Tottenham appeared outmatched.
Here’s what led to Spurs starting off on the wrong foot.
LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 14: Andrea Raggi of AS Monaco and Heung-Min Son of Tottenham Hotspur in action during the UEFA Champions League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and AS Monaco FC at Wembley Stadium on September 14, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
One would think that more width, or space, should offer both teams a huge advantage when they have possession of the ball.
But the only team who managed to make use of Wembley’s spacious pitch was Monaco.
Their wingers would hug the touchline to stretch Spurs’ central midfield and back four leaving massive holes in the middle.
LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 14: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur is challenged by Jemerson and Djibril Sidibe of AS Monaco during the UEFA Champions League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and AS Monaco FC at Wembley Stadium on September 14, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Statistics help support a team’s case as to why they were the better side or not, but for Tottenham, it’s misleading.
Despite finishing the game with 63 percent in possession, 15 shots, six on target and 11 corners, Spurs’ offense couldn’t get going.
Their attacks, whether it was on a quick counter or slowly building up play from the back, would either be stopped by Monaco’s defense or fizzle out because of a loss in possession.
Goals are the main statistic and Monaco managed to win while having fewer possession, total shots, shots on target and no corners.
Monaco aren’t known for offense, especially this term.
Jardim’s side has done well this season in Ligue 1 by playing with a very compact defense — oddly enough it should have been exposed by Wembley’s spacious pitch.
If Spurs didn’t concede possession while venturing forward, Monaco’s backline would still be able to intercept the ball or clear it away to stop Tottenham’s attack eventually.
The center-back pairing of Kamil Glik and Jemerson and right-back Andrea Raggi snuffed out multiple opportunities when Spurs were threatening.
At times, Tottenham managed to break through Monaco’s defense, but their shots would be denied. Or, just go straight to Danijel Subašić, effectively wasting a golden opportunity to go ahead early in the game.
LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 14: Andrea Raggi of AS Monaco is held off by Vincent Janssen of Tottenham Hotspur during the UEFA Champions League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and AS Monaco FC at Wembley Stadium on September 14, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
If Monaco’s first half performance while in attack was stellar by using Wembley’s pitch to their advantage and stretching Spurs’ defense, then it would be their second half defending that would seal a 2-1 victory.
Tottenham were able to get back into the game following Toby Alderweireld’s header at the stroke of half-time and some tactical changes.
But even though Spurs had the momentum coming out of the first half, Leonardo Jardim’s defense managed to fend their way through Spurs’ multiple attempts to pull level.
Crosses would be cleared away, through balls would be cut off.
It was a brilliant showing by Monaco. Even though they were holding onto a slim lead and couldn’t get much going on offense, their defense did more than enough to ensure the win.
This was by no means parking the bus.
Monaco anticipated what Spurs were going to do and were able to disrupt them time and time again. A picture perfect execution of going ahead early and maintaining their lead without conceding a goal in the second half.
LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 14: Mousa Dembele of Tottenham Hotspur skips past Tiemoue Bakayoko of AS Monaco during the UEFA Champions League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and AS Monaco FC at Wembley Stadium on September 14, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
The introduction of Mousa Dembélé to start the second half was a very good move on Mauricio Pochettino’s part.
Son Heung-Min was coming off of a marvelous game against Stoke City, with two goals and one assist, but was unable to carry that momentum over tonight.
He didn’t play bad, but wasn’t able to get going and become a threat. Missing the best chance of the game when his shot got blocked by a defender didn’t help.
Dembélé slotting into central midfield alongside Eric Dier helped Spurs’ offense be more adventurous going forward.
Last season Dele Alli was a thorn to the opposition as he found plenty of space sitting behind Harry Kane and sandwiched between Christian Eriksen and Èrik Lamela.
Returning to his normal role in Pochettino’s offense, Alli managed to find himself deep in Spurs’ attacking third throughout the second half, but Monaco’s defense was still too much.
Bringing on Vincent Janssen and Moussa Sissoko for Lamela and Dier, respectively, helped add some more tense moments for Monaco in the final 20 minutes.
But as usual, they dealt with the problem quite easily. No matter what Tottenham threw at them, Monaco had an answer.
LONDON, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 14: Christian Eriksen of Tottenham Hotspur rides a tackle from Fabinho of AS Monaco during the UEFA Champions League match between Tottenham Hotspur FC and AS Monaco FC at Wembley Stadium on September 14, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
If there was one major reason why Spurs fell behind early and couldn’t get into the game, it would be because of simple mistakes that kept adding up.
Put simply, a loss in possession over and over again.
When Spurs would be in attack, if they didn’t break through and get a shot off, their final pass would be lacking.
Monaco routinely clearing the ball or intercepting a pass saw Tottenham’s momentum quickly fizzle out.
This has been a problem over the years for Mauricio Pochettino’s side where their passing tends to falter at the most important moment which is the final third.
The simple fix would be to continuously get this part of their game ironed out, but practice and matchday are two different situations.
It’s a minor incident if Spurs win, but becomes a big problem if they lose.
Against the better teams in Europe and even in the Premier League, not capitalizing on a man-advantage via a counterattack will make a huge difference in closely contested games.
At the end of the day, Monaco were the better team overall by the slimmest of margins.
A 2-1 loss to Monaco sees Spurs sitting at the bottom of Group E with their next three Champions League fixtures on the road to Moscow, Germany and Monaco.
Up next is Sunderland this Saturday on a quick turnaround in the Premier League.
It will only get harder from here on out in Europe, but facing CSKA Moscow — who should be the easiest opponent in the group — could be the cure that Tottenham needs to climb back in the group standings.