Last season was Tottenham Hotspur's breakthrough. They stumbled late, falling out of the title race, but their third place Premier League finish put them back in the Champions League. It was gigantic for the North London club. But now they might waste it.
Spurs head into Tuesday's Champions League clash against Monaco sitting in third place in their group, two behind Bayer Leverkusen and four behind Monaco. That puts them in a near must-win scenario on the penultimate matchday, a precarious place for a club that thought they were ready to make their mark in Europe.
The reason Tottenham find themselves in such trouble is their struggles at home. Or “home.” They've lost their two home matches in the group so far, but construction at White Hart Lane forced them to play those contests at Wembley. Blame the different home or whatever you'd like, but no points from two home matches is how you find yourselves in trouble of crashing out of the Champions League.
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This isn't how it was supposed to go for Spurs. They had the youngest team in the Premier League a season ago, one that was only supposed to improve. They were going to take their frenetic and thrilling style of play to Europe, where they would make their mark under the brightest of spotlights. And while their group was difficult in the sense that there wasn't a pushover in Monaco, Bayer and CSKA, there also wasn't a team that was a powerhouse by any means. It was easy to make the case that Spurs were the best team in the group.
Instead, they're fighting for their lives with two matches to go.
Going out of the Champions League won't change that they have a young, talented team with an exciting academy and a new stadium opening soon that will completely change the club's finances. They're on the come up no matter what. But losing to Monaco and squandering this chance in Europe will be a blow.
And yet, a win over Monaco won't be enough to put Spurs through to the knockout stages. They'd still trail Monaco and, assuming Bayer beat CSKA like they should, they'd also trail their German foes. But if they can win their tough match at the Stade Louis II, they'd only have to beat CSKA Moscow at home on the final matchday to clinch a spot in the final round. Home struggles and problems with Wembley or not, Tottenham would feel good about any scenario that puts them three points against CSKA away from the round of 16.
Of course, that's only possible if they beat Monaco. If they don't, they may be mathematically eliminated before the final matchday. All that work to get into the top four and qualify for the Champions League would turn out to be nothing more than the chance to collect a fat check from UEFA — which, to be fair, is a big deal — and a complete whiff at glory. It would be a tough pill to swallow, and that's the nicest way to possibly put it.