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Why last season's Champions League Houdini act shows Tottenham don’t need to hit the panic button just yet

Last year’s miraculous run to the Champions League final came after a disastrous start to the group stage, can Maurico Pochettino’s men pull another rabbit out of the hat starting against Red Star on Tuesday night?

Last year’s Houdini act shows Spurs shouldn't panic - yet

Tottenham have been here before.

Humbled by a European giant at home and hopes of reaching the Champions League knockout stages seemingly a distant dream.

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Rewind 12 months and Spurs were heading into their matchday three fixture away at PSV Eindhoven having lost their opening two matches in Group B.

Matias Vecino’s 92nd-minute winner gave Inter Milan all three points at the San Siro before Lionel Messi inspired Barcelona to a 4-2 triumph at Wembley.

Ahead of the Philips Stadion trip Spurs sat six points behind both Inter and Barcelona but Maurico Pochettino remained in bullish mood.

“Of course it will be tough because now we have must-win games against PSV and Inter, and of course against Barcelona in Barcelona.

“Of course it will be tough but I’m still thinking the same, all is possible.”

Despite a disappointing 2-2 in Eindhoven, and Pochettino labelling their hopes of progressing “nearly over”, wins in the reverse fixture and at home to Inter took it down to matchday six.

Needing to better the Serie A outfit’s result, who were taking on PSV in Milan, they travelled to the Nou Camp to face Ernesto Valverde’s side who were already guaranteed top spot.

Lucas Moura's 85th-minute equaliser earned Spurs a priceless point and helped them achieve “mission impossible” according to Pochettino.

From there the Premier League side did not look back and it was the springboard that drove them all the way to the final in Madrid – so is all hope really lost this time around?

In terms of group position Spurs find themselves in a slightly better situation 12 months on, this time having taken one point from their opening two matches and sitting just two points behind Tuesday’s opponents Red Star.

But to take Champions League results so far in isolation is to downplay the current malaise that surrounds the club.

The matchday two humiliation at the hands of Bayern Munich three weeks ago is the standout result of the poor start to this season, but it’s in keeping with Spurs’ form more broadly.

That result came just a week after being dumped out of the Carabao Cup by League Two Colchester United; the miraculous semi-final second leg triumph over Ajax back in May was their last victory on the road in all competitions.

Their last away win in the Premier League was back in January and the 3-0 defeat at Brighton at the start of October really highlighted all their troubles away from the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.

BT Sport’s Joe Cole pulled no punches when dissecting that performance: “The club is in disarray.

“We’ll credit Brighton but Tottenham were dreadful – no desire, no heart, there was no press, tactically they looked inept, Pochettino looked uninterested on the bench.

“I think we’re getting to the point where it’s the end of the road for this team.

“I think we’re at that point now where something is going to have to change.”

Former Lilywhites midfielder Jermaine Jenas was in agreement that changes are needed.

“I feel like the club have let Maurico down, I feel like the players are not applying themselves as well and something needs to change,” said the 36-year-old.

“Hopefully it’s the players’ mentality rather than the manager in my opinion.” 

That the bookmakers have the former Southampton boss as the third favourite to be the next manager to leave his post just months after reaching the Champions League final tells its own story.

Add to that there are the constant rumours of where Christian Eriksen’s future lies; the Danish international’s contract up at the end of the season and the playmaker’s game time appears to have been significantly reduced either as a punishment or in preparation for his possible departure.

Despite bolstering the squad for the first time in 18 months over the summer, Spurs' only new arrival that has made any sort of impression on an increasingly beleaguered team is Tanguy Ndombele.

So can a must-win Champions League game reignite their campaign this time around?

Considering their Serbian opponents have also lost all four of their away matches in the competition, conceding 16 and scoring just twice, the fixture looks a rather favourable one in the circumstances.

One of those defeats came at Anfield last season, with Liverpool running out comfortable 4-0 winners thanks to goals from their ever-reliable front three.

The Reds did go on to lose the reverse fixture in Belgrade during last season’s group stages, showing the Serbian champions are certainly no pushovers.

But for a side struggling to find their rhythm and in one of their lowest ebbs for several seasons – perhaps the lowest in Pochettino’s more than five years at the helm – this is a game they have to win.

Put simply, their Champions League charge must start on Tuesday night and if the players dare to dream, who knows where it could take them this time around.

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