A team competing in three competitions at once—and lacking, for the most part, dominant players who tilt the field requires its manager to take calculated risks. Last night at White Hart Lane Mauricio Pochettino saved six vital squad members—Dier, Rose, Mason, Dembele, Lamela and, of course, Kane—for a more important fixture on Sunday. It was a risk that did not fully pay off- Spurs were held to a draw by Fiorentina and conceded what might be a vital away goal—but one absolutely worth taking regardless of the result.
Let us review the bidding: the most important goal for the remainder of this season is qualification in next year’s Champions League—where an ever-improving Pochettino-led squad, buttressed by a couple of key transfers (striker, attacking or holding midfielder), could make a deep and profitable run. The most direct route to that goal lies within the Premier League, where Spurs are battling four other teams—all of whom wear red– for two spots. The latest odds have Spurs fluctuating between 5 and 6 to 1 to gain one of those two spots—were it not for the tradition and reputation of three of those four sides, the truer odds might be as low as 3 to 1. On Sunday Spurs can, for all intents and purposes, end East London rival West Ham’s dreams of European bubbles with a home win and gain some additional measure of revenge for the three defeats suffered at the Hammers’ hands last season. Harry Kane’s full participation in that contest is more valuable than anything he could have done as a starter vs. Fiorentina.
I’ve written before that the novel reward for winning the Europa League—automatic Champions League placement—is a bit of a mirage. Spurs must win five separate knockout duels to win the trophy—the math is simple. Assume that they are slight favorites in two of those five contests—and no better than 50-50 to win the other three (and just where Fiorentina falls in this spectrum is open to debate). What are the actual odds of Tottenham getting through to the end—15 to 1? 20 to 1? 25 to 1? The last two seem closest to the truth, yielding an inevitable conclusion that Pochettino seems to accept: don’t waste your bullets on Europe.
The trickier wicket will come weekend next—when the League Cup final vs. Chelsea beckons. This could be the most vital game of the season: a chance to win some silverware at the expense of the likely Premiership winners. Not one of our best XI will want to miss out on the frivolity, including the goalkeeper despite his not being featured in previous League Cup games. Yet for all we know the clash in Fiorentina three days prior may extend into extra time and even penalties and force Pochettino’s hand. He knows that victories in the next two Premiership home fixtures (and Swansea beckon just three days following Wembley) will help his side’s Top Four ambitions immensely, and conversely that defeat in those same matches almost certainly dashes those hopes. It is entirely possible that most of the same players who were rested for all or most of last night’s game will also miss the return engagement in Florence. It is also not beyond question that one or two might be left out at Wembley.
There are plenty of sculptures of David in the city by the Arno—only one was produced by the master: Michelangelo. The Premier League is still, until events prove otherwise, the genuine article in terms of Tottenham’s aspirations. Pochettino will not be distracted by a facsimile of true success.
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