Brighton, with victory over Manchester United in the can at the Amex this season, is a big, big game for Tottenham.
Mauricio Pochettino, needled by this unexpected dip in form, is in new territory as Spurs manager.
The sweeping style established under their popular manager’s leadership is being tested after punishing defeats against Watford, Liverpool and Inter.
It was Prickly Poch in the San Siro, accusing a Sky Sports reporter of being “disrespectful” when asked a legitimate question about the decision to leave Toby Alderweireld and Kieran Trippier in London.
Coaches crave technical, tactical questions about team selection, but Poch’s reaction was emotional and erratic.
The players see it too, picking up on it on the team bus to the airport, with endless streams appearing on social media showing the manager losing his rag.
His pre-match briefing, with his confusing and complicated metaphor about cows in a field watching the world go by, was another sign of the pressure getting to Poch.
Those deliberate, choreographed moments do the trick when the delivery, the intention and the sentiment is obvious. Timing is everything.
Jose Mourinho, for one, is milking it, mischievously telling a TV crew after Manchester United’s 2-1 victory at Watford last Saturday it was time to turn the screw a little bit on Spurs.
Smirking throughout, he said: “Tottenham have had two straight losses. If the treatment is fair and equal, we will be left alone and now others can be annoyed.”
Tottenham are suddenly rattled. Beaten for a third time in a row, 2-1 by Inter Milan in their Champions League opener, they cannot lose their grip at Brighton.
Pochettino, with credit in the bank for establishing this easy-on-the-eye Spurs side, is now dealing with some unexpected scenarios.
He has chopped and changed his team and tactics three times since the world marvelled at the manner of their 3-0 destruction of United at Old Trafford back on August 27.
Everybody loved a bit of Spurs back then. It is fair to say it did not go down well with the players when he fiddled with a winning system before they were beaten at Watford in their next game.
Even so, they had the personnel to deal with an unexpected defeat.
Instead, they are fragile and emotionally unstable as they try to work out where it has all gone wrong.
Harry Kane, who had just 22 touches of the ball when he drew a blank against Liverpool last weekend, had only four more in the San Siro.
Injuries to Dele Alli and keeper Hugo Lloris, who shamed his good name when convicted of drink-driving last week, have weakened the spine of the team.
Eric Dier, the unsung Spurs hero against United, was inexplicably benched against Watford. The last two games have passed him by.
Beyond all that, Poch was unable to strengthen his squad in the summer. In public at the very least he has been toeing the line about the club’s failure to get involved in the transfer market.
Even so, nobody in the room at Wembley will forget his memorable, impassioned plea to chairman Daniel Levy to spend some cash to strengthen the squad after they beat Leicester 5-4 on the final day of last season.
It was around that time when Chelsea were sniffing around him — and Real Madrid only made their interest official after Poch had signed a lucrative new contract.
The ink was barely dry when Levy reined it all in, with the realisation that the stadium build would continue to be a massive drain on resources.
Poch wanted better players and the dressing room — even if the current crop are at risk with potential new arrivals — needed that lift as well.
It cannot be easy watching Manchester City and especially Liverpool blow their Premier League rivals away by spending fortunes to hoover up more talent.
Pochettino has to deal with that, to figure out how to win a game of football again when they visit Brighton tomorrow.
Lose that and they really will be done four.
THE attendance of just over 40,000 for Manchester City’s Champions League group game against Lyon is not a new phenomenon.
When Chelsea played Rosenborg in Jose Mourinho’s final game in charge in his first spell back in September 2007, they could only muster 24,973 at Stamford Bridge.
Despite the glamour of a Champions League night, the competition can still be a hard sell in the early stages of the season.
City, desperate to get their hands on the trophy under Pep Guardiola, always feel like a club who need persuading that a European night under the lights is worth turning out for.
RALPH ELLIS was known in our industry for his boundless enthusiasm, energy and zest for sport.
A distinguished journalist with the Daily Star, Sunday Mirror and the Daily Mail, Ralph died last weekend, aged 62, after a long battle with prostate cancer.
He was one of the cheeriest of guys. Rest in peace.
IVAN GAZIDIS will not be missed by Arsenal fans when he leaves for Milan but he has left the job half-done.
For years, the Gunners chief executive recognised the need for change and it was very much his call for Unai Emery to succeed Arsene Wenger in the summer.
Gazidis, who had been agonising over the move to Milan for months, should have seen it through and stuck around after finally getting his way over Wenger.
ANDRE MARRINER got the tough gig when appointed ref for Crystal Palace v Newcastle.
Wilfried Zaha was entitled to highlight the rough challenges he puts up with — that make Roy Hodgson wince.
Marriner took charge of this match last term and will be reffing two games out there tomorrow.
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