Neil Humphreys: Mauricio Pochettino in confidence crisis
Poor decisions suggest Spurs manager has had enough
Mauricio Pochettino and his players are turning games into marriage counselling sessions.
The relationships are awkward. There are performance issues. And no one is willing to say what needs to be said.
The silence between Tottenham Hotspur's manager and his muddled squad is not golden. It's corrosive.
At some point, there will be a parting of the ways if the tension isn't resolved. Pochettino and Spurs can't go on like this.
VAR's latest blunder offered a handy distraction for Tottenham, gifting them a point they didn't deserve against Watford and sparing Pochettino another interrogation. But Spurs were woeful. Again.
They have won only three times in 12 matches in all competitions this season. The crisis in confidence remains, but it's coming from the dugout.
After five years with the London side, Pochettino is second-guessing himself. He is, in effect, becoming his own worst enemy.
He made seven changes against Watford, a spluttering side still in search of their first English Premier League win. A radical switch in personnel and formation smacked of uncertainty and indecision.
For a full 45 minutes, Spurs' 3-4-2-1 line-up was comprehensively outplayed.
The Hornets had scored four times in their eight previous EPL games, but took an early lead against Tottenham - a recurring plotline for Spurs - and threatened to score a couple more.
Having penetrated the space on the left side of Tottenham's defence for their opener, Watford targeted the gaps between Jan Vertonghen and Danny Rose. Either defender could've been sacrificed at half-time.
Instead, Pochettino removed Davinson Sanchez, but the Spurs boss was spoilt for choice. Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and wingbacks Rose and Serge Aurier scarcely warranted a stay of execution.
All four are eager to leave Tottenham. All four seem to be protesting their current work conditions with a series of no-show protests.
But Pochettino has said nothing particularly critical.
The Argentine churned out his latest variation on a familiar line. They win together. They lose together. He supports them through good times and bad, sounding as if he were auditioning for the Dad's role in a Netflix family drama rather than the manager of a stagnating club.
He sounds tired. He even sounds old, which is ridiculous considering he's still only 47, a testament to such a long career at a young age.
He's only six years older than Frank Lampard, but the two managers were chalk and cheese in response to their teams' contrasting performances at the weekend.
The Chelsea manager won his fifth match in a row, but still lamented a lack of urgency. He sounded like a younger Pochettino.
But the Spurs manager lapsed into easy cliche, mumbling something about fighting spirit and character, despite his players rarely showing much of either. He sounded like an older Jose Mourinho.
Pochettino has never been a rabble-rouser, the archaic, stereotypical British bulldog of man-management. He's the antithesis of Tim Sherwood and no one seriously advocates the return of Sherwood to the Spurs dugout.
But inspiration, of any kind, has left the building.
Vertonghen and Alderweireld, once a respected central defensive partnership in the EPL, are playing as if they're involved in a secret, mutinous act, sabotaging the club from within because they can't leave.
Eric Dier, Harry Winks and Dele Alli were poster boys for the admired Pochettino production line. Now, Dier struggles to get off the bench, Winks was taken off against Watford and Alli has become the barometer of his club's form.
He's rusty, tentative and short on confidence, a mirror image of his manager.
In fairness, recent signings Tanguy Ndombele, Giovani Lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon have struggled with injuries and Hugo Lloris is out until the New Year.
But Tottenham's creative talisman, Christian Eriksen, has slipped from Pochettino's grasp. The manager can't motivate him to stay, or at least coax decent performances from the midfielder before he leaves.
The progress of Tottenham's youngsters has stalled and Harry Kane struggles to dominate when he's left isolated in mercurial formations.
Pochettino won't be fired, even if 23 points from the last 22 EPL games is relegation form.
But the relationship between weary coach and club is faltering. His misplaced trust in under-performing players, his heavy rotating and his struggle to rebuild confidence suggest a lack of self-belief.
Even if he hasn't lost the dressing room, Pochettino seems to have lost faith in himself.