Pochettino rages as rivals Arsenal snatch second place
A season in which Tottenham Hotspur mounted their first serious title challenge for more than 30 years has ended in disarray, acrimony and a brutally scathing assessment from their head coach, Mauricio Pochettino.
On a day when Newcastle United were supposed to be the ones who were looking embarrassed after their relegation to the Championship, it was Spurs who left the pitch humiliated and suddenly, surpris- ingly, unsure what the future holds.
Pochettino was furious and made no attempt to hide it. Having spent most of the second half sulking in his dugout, the Argentinian exploded in his post-match press conference, hammering his players as he not only apologised to supporters but also claimed that the families of his players and staff would be ashamed of them.
This was a humbling experience, not because it meant that Arsenal once again finished above Spurs, but because they were thrashed by a Newcastle side who had already been relegated and who played the last half an hour with 10 men after Aleksandar Mitrovic’s sending-off.
“It’s difficult now to analyse the season because the way that we played today,” said Pochettino. “First of all, I would like to apologise to our fans, our team was terrible for them.
“To our families, too, I apologise. It’s difficult to go back to see your kids, your wife, your girlfriends, your dad – this wasn’t the team that played all season. It’s my worst day as a manager. Not just in England, in Spain, too.”
Spurs have excited so many observers this term, but this was an alarming display, the sort of softness that has created their own adjective. In short, this was all a bit ‘Spursy’. As for Newcastle, their supporters have had a few days to lick their wounds after their second relegation in seven years and they spent the whole game singing Rafa Benítez’s name as they tried to persuade him to stay on Tyneside.
“I said before that I was expect- ing a great atmosphere, but it has been amazing,” Benítez said. “Even more positive than I was expecting. We still have to sit down. I want the best for Newcastle United and the best for me.
“That’s simple. I was open to talk and now I am more open to talk. My heart is saying yes [to staying]. It’s a fantastic opportunity and atmosphere, but you have to use your brain too.”
Only time will tell whether this was the start of the recovery under the Spaniard or merely a special parting gift. It is starting to look increasingly likely that Benítez will remain; the emotional bond he has developed for the club and supporters is heightened by the fact that there is not a better job open to him in England this summer.
But Benítez is a pragmatist as well as a romantic. Mike Ashley met the Spaniard for discussions after the match and more talks are planned, but the owner still has to convince him that, if he does not quit, he will have a team strong enough to dominate the Championship rather than just compete in it.
That means giving him the freedom and money to sign new players, as well as decide who stays and who leaves.
This was Newcastle’s best performance of the season and it took Spurs by surprise, as though they had expected to turn up and stroll to an easy away win. Without their intensity and energy, Spurs were ordinary. Newcastle dominated.
Mitrovic gave the Spurs defence a warning when he was denied a simple tap-in by a brilliant tackle from Toby Alderweireld, but Newcastle were still allowed to take the lead.
Moussa Sissoko crossed into the feet of Mitrovic, who controlled it perfectly for Georginio Wijnaldum to slide a low shot beyond Hugo Lloris. It should have sparked a response from Spurs, who needed a point to guarantee finishing above Arsenal, but it did not and Newcastle doubled their lead before half-time when Mitrovic headed in a cross from Sissoko.
Although Tottenham pulled a goal back through Érik Lamela, the fightback did not materialise, even after Mitrovic had been shown a red card for a horrible stamp on the shin of Kyle Walker.
Almost immediately, Sissoko took a tumble inside the area – there was minimal contact from Jan Vertonghen – and Wijnaldum sent Lloris the wrong way from the penalty spot.
The Benítez songs started almost as soon as the ball had hit the back of the net and Newcastle almost had a fourth, Sissoko’s shot superbly tipped over the bar by Lloris.
He was also denied again by Lloris, but Newcastle constantly opened up the visitors on the break and goals from Rolando Aarons and Daryl Janmaat put a gloss on an otherwise drab season.
Hero and villain: Aleksandar Mitrovic celebrates (left) scoring the second Newcastle goal before launching a tackle on Kyle Walker (above) that earned him a red card