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Was it the pitch guv?


Many football managers have a great big book of excuses which they resort to in order to explain defeats. A favourite is to blame the officials: their goal was offside, but was given; ours wasn't, but was checked off. Don't get me started on penalty calls.

Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino has been very reluctant to use the explanation of the Wembley 'jinx' for his sides defeat at 'home' to Chelsea.   In part this is because he says that his team performed well (with some justification), even if they lost.  If he admits there is a jinx, it may become real in the minds of players.  So the 'crisis, what crisis?' line is a reasonable one to take,

Of course, Spurs are bound to win a game at Wembley 'eventually'.   Like West Ham United at the London Stadium, they will adjust to their new surroundings.  But 'eventually' is not good enough for a team that purports to have title ambitions, although I suspect that these are really on hold until the return to a revamped White Hart Lane (whatever it is called).   Even so, they would want a Champions League finish.

Pochettino tried to make everything as 'normal' as possible for the game.  Players were expected to drive to Wembley, meaning a crawl through the North London traffic however powerful their cars. The only special instruction they got was to leave home early.   Every effort was made to make the stadium feel like home with plenty of cockrels in evidence and a drum near the loudspeakers.   Spurs fans certainly got behind their team.

Even so, the defeat was the manager's first at home in 14 London derbies.   This was defeat number eight at the national stadium.  Spurs have won only one match and drawn one at Wembley.   Last year at the Lane they won 17 and drew the other two of their home games.

The substantive issue is the larger playing surface at Wembley, 105 metres by 69 metres as opposed to 100 metres by 67 metres at White Hart Lane.   It has been argued that the eight per cent extra size of the pitch will make Tottenham's high-pressinhg game harder to sustain.  At this level, small margins can be decisive,  It has been alleged that Spurs tried to alter the size of the pitch.

James Gheerbrant, writing in The Times, said: 'Despite the result, this was generally a performance to show that Tottenham are well capable of playing expansive football on a larger surface.  Whereas they were lethargic against Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen last season, here the trademark Pochettino press was transposed much more successfully to a bigger pitch.'

Chelsea were more clinical in front of goal and more successful in denying their opponents clear scoring opportunities, even though they had 18 shots on goal.  Tottenham's 68 per cent possession counted for little at the end of the day.

I would stop this home game nonsense with the players and let them rest up in a nearby hotel.  I remember seeing Liverpool players emerge from the hotel I was staying in for a home game.