Tottenham’s thin and stretched squad might be close to breaking point at the most crucial stage of its season.
Three days before making its first appearance in the Champions League semifinals, Tottenham produced a lethargic display in losing to West Ham 1-0 in the English Premier League on Saturday for a first defeat in its newly built 1 billion-pound stadium.
The team has yet to clinch a top-four spot — this result will give Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United renewed hope in the race for Champions League qualification — and manager Mauricio Pochettino’s comments after the game do not bode well ahead of one of the most important weeks in Tottenham’s history.
“When the stress and fatigue arrived, that is our reality,” Pochettino said, explaining, his team’s below-par display. “We are a very competitive team when we are with full energy. We are so focused.
“The stress and the fatigue arrived, (and) we are competing with circumstances that are not the best.”
With injuries limiting his ability to rotate the team amid a grueling schedule of games every three or four days, Pochettino played a close-to-full-strength team against West Ham. Ideally, he would have liked to have rested key players such as Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli.
Spurs finished the game with Fernando Llorente and Vincent Janssen, two long-overlooked and often-maligned strikers, as their forward line.
As it is, Tottenham heads to Ajax for the first leg on Tuesday with Harry Kane, Harry Winks and Erik Lamela among those injured, Heung-min Son suspended, and a big doubt over the fitness of increasingly influential midfielder Moussa Sissoko.
Tottenham stayed in third place, three points ahead of fourth-placed Chelsea, four points clear of fifth-placed Arsenal, and six points ahead of sixth-placed Manchester United. They all have a game in hand over Tottenham, with Arsenal visiting Leicester on Sunday before United and Chelsea meet at Old Trafford.
Behind them, Wolverhampton Wanderers looks on course to finish in seventh place — potentially earning a spot in the Europa League next season — after beating Watford 2-1.
Cardiff conceded late to lose at already-demoted Fulham 1-0 and stay in the relegation zone, three points behind Brighton, which hosts Newcastle in Saturday’s late game. Cardiff has only two games to play in its attempt to avoid joining Fulham and Huddersfield in going down.
Cardiff’s loss guaranteed the safety of Southampton, which drew a wild game against southern rival Bournemouth 3-3. Crystal Palace drew at home to Everton 0-0.