Spurs quietly carry Premier League's European hopes
Overlooked in the EPL, Spurs are bigger, better and can shine in Europe
TOTTENHAM v MONACO
(Tomorrow, 2.40am, Singtel TV Ch 111 & StarHub TV Ch 202)
Tottenham's shadowy squad are yesterday's men.
Their failed title challenge has faded from the memory. The Golden Boot winner feels a tad tarnished and Mauricio Pochettino is no longer the managerial flavour of the month.
And he probably wouldn't have it any other way.
As Spurs kick off their return to the Champions League tomorrow morning (Singapore time), Monaco would do well to remember the old motherly saying.
Beware the quiet ones.
A deceptively muted start to the season hides the attacking potency of a coiled serpent.
Tottenham's forgotten footballers didn't fall away. They just slipped from the Premier League's consciousness for a bit. Their story was no longer sexy.
In actual fact, they got better.
But better isn't big enough in the explosive age of razzle-dazzle derbies, conflicts between Mediterranean managers and screaming Italians stomping across Stamford Bridge.
Even a new, improved Tottenham seemed old hat when compared to the Blitzkrieg advances taking place in Manchester and West London.
But Pochettino knows.
The wry smile after Spurs' scintillating demolition of Stoke confirmed his suspicions. Unheralded and largely overlooked, Tottenham are exactly where they need to be.
Some 80,000 tickets have been sold for their Group E opener against Monaco for a reason. The Wembley venue always holds an alluring quality, but there's nothing like a 4-0 victory in the Potteries to intoxicate the masses.
Tottenham's mental brittleness halted their title charge last season, unable to hold their nerve against the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea when it really mattered.
Spurs had the counter-pressing template, a gifted manager, an excellent first 11 and an outstanding marksman. But their artistry lacked depth and gumption.
Pochettino needed more men of muscle. Most of all, he just needed more men.
And he's since acquired both.
Victor Wanyama epitomised the kind of tenacious, physical specimen designed for a wet weekend in Stoke, practically tearing the heads of passing midfielders.
With the job done after an hour, he was granted an early rest ahead of his Wembley date. Erik Lamela replaced him and replicated his workrate.
After scoring his first goal of the campaign, Harry Kane then went off for Vincent Janssen, who's not a striking equal but an able deputy nonetheless.
Son Heung Min showed a cool head in the kind of areas where his team-mates kept losing theirs last season, brushing aside the pressure to score twice. Dele Alli knocked in the other goal.
Moussa Sissoko came off the bench for a late cameo and Mousa Dembele is available to face Monaco, despite his domestic suspension.
Have you joined the dots yet?
As the spotlight shines elsewhere, a pattern is quietly emerging at Spurs.
Pochettino's sly work continues, unchecked and often unnoticed, building a squad capable of challenging for silverware.
During the Manchester Derby hullabaloo, two priceless bits of business were concluded at Tottenham. Christian Eriksen extended his contract until 2020 and Eric Dier signed a new five-year deal.
Kane and Kyle Walker are expected to follow suit.
A domino effect of the reverse kind is taking place for the first time. Stars aren't falling. Tottenham are finally losing their reputation as a selling club.
No one in a Spurs jersey hankers for a move to a trophy-chasing, Champions League club. They've already found one. Just ask Eriksen.
Once he'd committed on paper, the Dane did likewise on the pitch, enjoying his most focused performance of the season at Stoke.
Tottenham's residual hangover from that title implosion is slowly giving way to a steely optimism and a belief that the best is yet to come.
Unlike Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool, Spurs remain undefeated in the EPL. Their Champions League return also looks reasonably kind, with Bayer Leverkusen and CSKA Moscow joining them in Group E.
And apart from Danny Rose, they will trundle down Wembley Way with no fresh injury concerns.
White Hart Lane's stadium is being redeveloped, but there's a sense that the squad are developing faster still, out of sight and mostly out of mind.
That could all change against Monaco. The early Ligue 1 leaders offer a genuine test of Tottenham's European credentials.
A small squad and mental frailties destroyed their domestic dream last season.
Pochettino has taken care of the squad. Now, his players must prove that they're made of sterner stuff.
It's time for the quiet ones to make some noise.
It will be a historic moment for us. We need to go to Wembley to play, to behave naturally and to try to win games and not try to find excuses.
— Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino on playing in Wembley as White Hart Lane is under renovation
You have more space to play in (on a bigger pitch). It’s difficult for the opponents to press you when you have more space and more metres to run.
— Pochettino on the Wembley pitch
What qualities can I bring to this team? My power and my strength. I have a lot of energy. Everyone knows I like to run forward, so maybe this is something I can add.
— Spurs’ Moussa Sissoko
Van Praag: New Champs League deal if elected
Michael van Praag will reopen negotiations over the format for the Champions League if he is elected Uefa president today.
The Dutch football boss said he helped avert a Super League during recent talks which ended with changes made to the Champions League, the flagship competition, in favour of the big clubs.
Van Praag faces Slovenia counterpart Aleksander Ceferin in today's election to find a replacement Michel Platini, banned for four years for ethics violations, as head of European soccer's governing body. Ceferin has collected more public declarations of support although van Praag has refused to give up.
Uefa last month opened up more places to teams from the biggest four leagues - Spain, England, Germany and Italy - in the lucrative group stage of the Champions League and cut those allocated to the rest. - Reuters.