Are Tottenham’s struggles a sign the EPL is in trouble?

Soccer’s UEFA Champions League is an unforgiving place; an elite world where wobbling confidence, jittery form or internal doubt is swiftly exposed. When things go badly, like they did for Tottenham Hotspur in a 7-2 home thrashing against Bayern Munich on Tuesday, they go really badly.

What makes the Champions League stand out even more as the flagship club competition in the world is that, similarly to the passion on display at the World Cup, teams represent not only themselves, but by extension, the countries and the leagues they populate.

So when a result of freakish nature such as Bayern’s triumphant raid on North London takes place, it leads to wider questions. The most popular one — being asked ever since the seventh goal smacked into the Tottenham net and condemned last season’s Champions League finalists to its most humiliating defeat of recent times — was a broad one indeed: can the English Premier League still claim to be the best domestic competition on the planet when one of its leading lights has been outclassed so systematically?

The answer is complicated. For a start, while Tottenham is one of four EPL Champions League representatives this season, it’s not like they’re tearing things up on the home front, either.

In the EPL, the Spurs are in a four-way tie for sixth place, with a dismal home loss to Newcastle early in the campaign and an embarrassing exit from the minor knockout competition EFL Cup against lower-tier Colchester last week. Head coach Mauricio Pochettino has gone from being a potential target for Real Madrid to facing the real danger of losing his job altogether.

“This was a long time coming,” Bleacher Report football insider Dean Jones told me via telephone from London. “You’re talking about a side that’s very low on confidence. Even going into the Champions League final last season, they were in bad form.

“The score itself was obviously a surprise but the fact that they took a beating from a top team? That definitely wasn’t. There is just a really bad vibe that has set in and they’re struggling to find direction.”

Bayern, champions of the German Bundesliga for the past seven seasons, might be the worst team of all to face if you’re behind and your players’ heads have dropped. The last three goals were quite simply ruthless and clinical.

“This was the worst result of the Mauricio Pochettino era, never mind this season. But that doesn’t mean it was the worst performance,” write Jack Pitt-Brooke at The Athletic. “For the first 40 minutes or so, right up until Robert Lewandowski made it 2-1, Tottenham were well on top.”

Yet the question of whether the EPL maintains its prime position as the world’s best league is both valid and timely — and not just because of this result. Arguably the two biggest and most significant clubs of the EPL era, Manchester United and Arsenal, are both suffering through dismal stretches with no end in sight. Chelsea is unable to spend its way to better fortune due to a ban on transfers as punishment for irregular dealing. Manchester City and Liverpool are streets ahead of the pack and look poised to continue that domination.

“The Premier League is really hard to judge at the moment, because Manchester City and Liverpool are so much better than everyone else,” Jones added. “All the traditional powerhouses have slipped due to terrible planning, none of them are well prepared for the situation they’re in.

“In some ways it makes it more exciting, because the positions outside the top two are wide open and up for grabs. But it is not the best quality league in Europe right now.”

Jones believes Italy’s Serie A (boosted by Cristiano Ronaldo’s second season since moving to Juventus) probably has a better overall standard, while Spain’s La Liga would also have a strong argument if not for the wavering form of Real Madrid and Barcelona. The Bundesliga, a destination for a growing number of young Americans, does not spend the kind of exorbitant transfer fees and wages of the English teams, but makes up for it with outstanding player development systems.

EPL teams who fall on hard times typically have one way to try to alleviate their difficulties: by throwing money at the problem. Transfer windows resemble a kind of reverse Black Friday, a mass of panic-driven spending — at vastly inflated prices.

One defeat by Tottenham isn’t going to stop the EPL from being a financial powerhouse and it doesn’t by itself offer definitive proof that the league is on the wane. But English soccer’s heavyweights have some real problems, and this was one of the latest symptoms.