Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino defended his selection after his team suffered a "cruel" 2-1 defeat to Inter Milan in their Champions League Group B opener at the San Siro on Tuesday.
With Kieran Trippier and Toby Alderweireld left out of the squad for what Pochettino called "technical reasons," Serge Aurier and Davinson Sanchez had a chance to stake their claims.
For 86 minutes they impressed, but after late goals from Inter sealed a 2-1 win postmatch questions returned to Pochettino's decision to travel to Italy without the two defenders, especially as Dele Alli and goalkeeper Hugo Lloris were also unavailable because of injuries.
"Why? They were on the pitch against Liverpool and Watford. They are easy targets," Pochettino said. "We need to talk about football. You force me to say something that is not good. You disrespect the players who were here today. You can blame me on my selection of the starting XI, but please don't disrespect the players on the pitch."
Pochettino, who has now lost three consecutive matches for the first time since taking over at Tottenham in 2014, felt they had produced their best display of the campaign so far.
"I'm happy with the performance -- we dominated until the end -- but of course the result was so cruel," he said. "For me it was our best performance since the beginning of the season."
With Barcelona, who romped past PSV Eindhoven, also in the group, Spurs now have little margin for error.
"The last few games, we're paying a lot and suffering the punishment for our mistakes," Pochettino said.