Tottenham 2-4 Barcelona: 'It's stretching reality to claim Spurs are among Europe's best'

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Tottenham were heroes - Pochettino

As Mauricio Pochettino sat and swallowed the disappointment of Wednesday's Champions League loss to Barcelona, it was in this same room at Wembley 11 months ago he declared Tottenham among the best teams in Europe.

Spurs had qualified for the Champions League knockout phase by outclassing eventual winners Real Madrid in a 3-1 win that illuminated the stadium with its brilliance. It was 1 November and Pochettino was buoyant.

"We now not only belong with the best in England but in Europe," said the Argentine. "What we have to do now is move to the next level and that is winning things. We're pleased but it will mean nothing if we have not won anything."

Fast forward to this 4-2 defeat by Barcelona and Pochettino's claim no longer stands up to close scrutiny.

Make no mistake, better sides than Spurs would have suffered as Lionel Messi inflicted this Wembley torture, but it was undoubtedly a sobering night when set against the euphoria of that dismissal of Real Madrid.

To revisit Pochettino's own words, Spurs have not won anything and it is stretching reality and credibility to suggest they are among the best in Europe - indeed they must now act quickly to ensure they do not fall at the Champions League group stage after successive losses to Inter Milan and now Barca.

So why have Spurs not moved to the next level Pochettino flagged up as he basked in that glorious Wembley night when Real Madrid were put to the sword?

Tottenham's wasted summer?

It is easy to be wise after the event and Spurs looked to have made the leap their ambitious manager demanded when they went to Old Trafford and put Manchester United away 3-0 in August.

Was this the landmark win Pochettino had wanted? Subsequent losses to Watford, Liverpool and Inter Milan soon calmed the expectations.

And here, faced with a barrage of superstars such as Messi, Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho and Ivan Rakitic, Spurs looked exposed.

Tottenham players
Tottenham have not won in the Champions League since they beat Apoel Nicosia in last season's group stage

It justifiably reignites the debate about the wisdom of the club's failure to add any senior players in the summer while all around were not only adding high-profile quality but fleshing out their squad strength.

At the end of last season, with Champions League qualification assured but still no trophies after four years in charge, Pochettino spoke of the need to "take risks" to push on for the big prizes.

Pochettino has made no public complaint about the club's transfer strategy, headed up by a chairman in Daniel Levy who continues to enjoy a reputation as a shrewd market operator. The summer ended with no squad strengthening and heavy reliance on a large number of players who were involved in the latter stages of gruelling World Cup campaigns in Russia this summer.

It was certainly a high-risk approach but perhaps not the sort Pochettino had in mind at the end of last season.

And when it comes to facing opposition of the highest class, it gets exposed - as it did here.

In the recent defeat at home to Liverpool, most observers noted the mental and physical lethargy Spurs seemed to exude. They looked tired in mind and body as Liverpool won 2-1, a result that flattered Spurs.

Here against Barcelona, there was a shortage of bodies.

Spurs were without Jan Vertonghen, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli, three absentees that drove at the very heart of their creativity, threat and defensive strength.

Those in their place performed manfully, with Harry Winks again showing his promise, but there is no question this current Spurs squad is short on numbers and would have felt the benefit of at least some incomings in the summer.

Spurs have class in all areas - although goalkeeper Hugo Lloris often seems to escape scrutiny for his eccentricities - but they simply need more.

Attacking options from the bench were limited and there is still the question of high-class cover (or the lack of it) for Harry Kane.

As they go deeper into this season, will Spurs and Pochettino feel this was a summer of wasted opportunity in the transfer market?

Still optimism for Spurs & Pochettino?

Harry Winks
Harry Winks competed 95% of his passes against Barcelona, the highest percentage of any Spurs player

The start to Tottenham's season has been a mixed bag - with those Premier League defeats to Watford and Liverpool alongside two successive Champions League losses to Inter and now Barca.

And yet Pochettino and his players still have plenty to sustain them despite this disappointment, and the manner in which Spurs battled adversity at Wembley will give him and their supporters encouragement.

Spurs, like a boxer trapped on the ropes, were pinned in by Barca's brilliance for long spells but still showed the heart and guts to come out swinging and land the counter punch.

It was a tribute to their character that they remained in the hunt for an equaliser until Messi appropriately had the last word to seal Barca's 4-2 win.

Kane's spell of struggle is over after a quite brilliant finish to add to his goal at Brighton and his double at Huddersfield. He was still striving until the final whistle, a far cry from the jaded figure of three weeks ago.

This is good news for Spurs and England.

Winks delivered further evidence of his promise while the eventual return of the likes of Eriksen and Alli will be welcomed.

Spurs remain fourth in the Premier League with five wins in seven games and when Pochettino gets his strongest side on the pitch in good physical condition, they can be a match for anyone.

It is when those resources are reduced and stretched, however, that their policy of inactivity in the transfer market can be questioned.

Spurs and Pochettino must hope they do not pay the price.