When Spurs last visited Eindhoven, the home of the Phillips electrical empire, it was a low-wattage Uefa Cup game, when Juande Ramos was in charge of a Spurs side that included the likes of Steed Malbranque, Pascal Chimbonda, and Jamie O’Hara.
Spurs failed to sparkle, losing 6-5 on penalties, and they were so impressed with PSV’s keeper Heurelho Gomes that they signed the Brazilian the following summer.
Fast forward 10 years, and this is a different type of challenge. Tottenham have one of the best teams in England, have made their best start to a season for over 20 years, yet the pressure is on Mauricio Pochettino and his players, because of their terrible start in the Champions League.
It is a measure of how far Pochettino has taken Tottenham in his four full years in charge that expectation levels from fans and outside observers have rocketed in recent years. Pochettino describes Tottenham’s Champions League tie at PSV Eindhoven tonight as a “must-win game”, but adds the caveat that, for Spurs, every game has the same status.
Losing to Barcelona was no disgrace, but falling 2-1 in Milan after leading Inter was a shock, and leaves Spurs bottom of Group B, meaning anything but victory in Eindhoven will kill any realistic chance of progressing to the knockout rounds.
By contrast, PSV, managed by their former hero Marc Van Bommel, could not have made a better start under the Dutchman. Nine wins out of nine in the league has given him a perfect start and the team great confidence, and his record is only ruined by defeats to Inter and Barcelona.
So it is no exaggeration to say this is already a crucial test for Tottenham, who are still missing influential players Jan Vertonghen, Dele Alli and Danny Rose because of injury. Asked if it is a must-win game, Pochettino responded: “ My approach is always it’s a must-win game. I don’t believe they will feel different. I think the players need to feel the same, have freedom to play, enjoy the game, knowing the consequences will be different if we win or lose, but in all the games it is the same. Today, playing professional football is about playing under stress and I don’t believe this will be different.”
Indeed, this is the first of six big games in the next 18 days for Tottenham, who face the ultimate test of their title credentials when they face Manchester City at Wembley next Monday. It is, as Pochettino admits, “a massive, massive challenge”, but he thrives on adversity.
To face adversity is to be strong, mentally strong and physically strong and be available always to work hard and minimise the impact of that adversity.
PSV once had the stranglehold over Dutch football that Pep Guardiola’s men have in England these days, and Van Bommel took over the Dutch champions at a good time.
“They’re a very good team, a very attacking team with a lot of quality players,” warned Pochettino. “They are doing fantastically in their domestic league. Of course they have struggled like us in the Champions League, so it makes for a difficult game, because we both need to win.
We need to be thinking it is so important to get the three points if we want to be alive in this competition.
On the positive side, Pochettino can call upon Christian Eriksen and Mousa Dembele after the midfielders both returned from injury as substitutes in Tottenham’s 1-0 win at West Ham on Saturday.
However, he won’t have the services of Vincent Janssen, the Dutch striker Spurs signed from AZ Alkmar in 2016 for €20m. The Dutchman failed to live up to expectations and was sent on loan to Fenerbahce and does not even have a place in Tottenham’s Champions League squad this season.
Pochettino was irritated to be asked about a striker who scored freely in the Eredivisie, preferring to focus on the players who are here in Holland, and the job in hand.
With Harry Kane still feared throughout Europe, and the memory of Tottenham’s 3-1 win over Real Madrid last year, Van Bommel claimed the Londoners are as strong as Inter or Barcelona.
Pochettino would not be drawn on that comment. “It’s his opinion and I respect it,” he said.
However, he admires the former Barcelona enforcer.
“He was a great player. I was lucky to face him when he was in Barcelona for one season. I think 2005/06, it was my last year as a professional. His career was fantastic as a player and now as a manager. He’s doing a great job at PSV. Nine games and nine victories and of course his signature is an offensive mindset, attacking football and you can see in PSV what the manager expects from the team and the players.”