Inside Tottenham's collapse: Tensions grow as players question Pochettino's tactics

LONDON -- One by one, the Tottenham players left their brand-new stadium late on Tuesday night after the embarrassment of their 7-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Groggy and shocked by what had happened to them a few hours earlier, they had stayed in the dressing room for a long time after the final whistle, sitting in quiet contemplation, not really realising what had hit them.

Never in Tottenham's long history had the club conceded seven goals at home in any competition. Bayern taught them a lesson; the Germans were not only more clinical, but also more organised. On the other hand, Spurs were a mess, and once again the flaws that they have been showing since the start of the season appeared. But what went wrong?

Sources have told ESPN FC that tension are high between senior players in the squad, which has been together for about five years. For some of them, there was only one place to go after reaching the Champions League final last season: down. Others wanted out. Christian Eriksen, for example, failed to orchestrate a move out of the club, while other players have expressed frustration behind the scenes that Spurs didn't sign enough players this summer, with only Tanguy Ndombele, Ryan Sessegnon and Giovanni Lo Celso arriving in North London. Sessegnon has been injured since joining, while Lo Celso has played just 44 minutes in all competitions so far.

The transfer market has created problems between manager Mauricio Pochettino and chairman Daniel Levy and the board. The manager angrily reminded everyone, once more, at the end of July, that he was not in charge of transfer dealings and that he was not a manager as such but more of a head coach.

The players are also questioning their manager's tactics, adding to the tensions.

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Sources have told ESPN FC that some senior players are not happy with the tactical systems, starting with the diamond midfield 4-3-1-2, recently used by Pochettino. It enables Son Heung-Min and Harry Kane to play together up front but the midfield is more exposed, as are the flanks, and Spurs have only kept two clean sheets this season (against Crystal Palace and Colchester) in 10 matches in all competitions.

Then there is the flat 4-4-2, also used this season, which left Tottenham too weak in central midfield, as we saw against Arsenal. Against Bayern, Pochettino started with a 4-3-1-2 and then moved to a 4-4-2 after 30 minutes when his team started to struggle. Neither worked. "We get tired too quickly physically when we play with a diamond midfield," Moussa Sissoko admitted on French TV channel RMC Sport on Tuesday night.

The players also don't understand why Pochettino has told them to dial back the pressing, a tactic that was a success last season.

Some of the manager's team selections have not paid off. Dele Alli was picked ahead of Christian Eriksen against Bayern, and also against Olympiakos, but was poor in both encounters. The decision to leave Son on the bench for 73 minutes against the Greeks was also hard to understand.

But not everything so far this season is Pochettino's fault.

The players have to take some of the blame, and Sissoko lamented after Tuesday's disaster: "We gave up too quickly tonight." But are the tensions in the squad adversely affecting the team on the pitch?

A troubling pattern has emerged this season: the players tend to drop their concentration on either side of half-time. Against Bayern, Spurs conceded a goal in the 45th minute, and then in the 53rd and 55th minutes. At Arsenal in the Premier League, they went 2-0 up but were caught out by Alexandre Lacazette's goal just before the break and allowed their bitter rivals to snatch a 2-2 draw. Then, two weeks ago, they were up 2-0 against Olympiakos before the Greeks scored in the 44th and 54th minutes to equalise.

Now Pochettino is under even more pressure to find the answers to his team's problems. The players have one more game, away at Brighton on Saturday, before the international break, to put things right. But the battering by Bayern Munich, and its consequences both on and off the pitch, could have a big impact on an already difficult season.