I doubt that I was alone amongst Spurs fans in watching the Fiorentina game on Thursday with mixed feelings. On the one hand, a good performance resulting in progression to the last 16 might give us an injection of confidence and fuel a return to winning ways, starting, hopefully, with a win in the Capital Cup final on Sunday. On the other hand, it’s no coincidence that our best performances this year have been when the Europa League took a break and we weren’t subjected to the Thursday / Sunday playing grind.
Our last-gasp draw at home to West Ham was a performance that showed characterbut was not a patch on the performance when we lost away to Liverpool, let alone the brilliant win against the Arse in the game before that. And it was hard to escape the conclusion that having resumed Europa League action on the previous Thursday had more than a little to do with it. Consequently, I found that my feelings were tilting quite quickly to a ‘I don’t care if we go out’ stance and then more and more, as the game wore on, to positively delighting in the fact that we showed no sign of being able to claw back a 2-goal deficit this time and appeared certain to be going out.
A clue to my feelings lies in my first paragraph. Had we won, we’d have been through to the last 16. Yes, that’s right, 16!!!!! We seem to have been playing Europa League games since the fucking summer, here we are nearly in March and we might still, with continued success, have been facing another six home and away games to get to the final. Forget about UEFA’s sop to those questioning this competition’s worth of a Champion’s League place to the winners; this competition is a bloated pile of shit, built on the idea that more places means more teams means more games means more television means more money. Most managers treat it with barely-concealed disdain – rather like the Capital Cup, if truth be told, but I’ll come to that later – witness Harry virtually playing our youth team in it a few years back, and Steve Bruce’s contemptuous response to Hull fans’ delight at getting into Europe for the first time ever this year of fielding a weakened team and getting knocked out in the qualifying round.
For younger readers, I should point out that I can remember a knockout European competition that wasn’t the Champion’s League but actually involved teams finishing 2nd, 3rd and sometimes 4th in their respective home leagues and thus carried genuine prestige and had managers playing their strongest sides in a real attempt to win the thing. It was initially called the Inter-City Fairs Cup ( still cherished in parts of the North East as the last silverware ever won by Newcastle ), then morphed into the UEFA Cup. Hell, we actually won the thing a couple of times ( beating Wolves over two-legs in the 70’s and Anderlecht in the early 80s, if memory serves) and, boy, were they great nights. Now, of course, the teams finishing in those sort of places get into the Champions League, which is why Arsene Wenger boasts of Arsenal’s regular qualification for same as if it provides trophies to go into their cabinet and the Europa League has a distinctly 2nd class status that the old UEFA Cup never suffered from.
OK, I’m not saying I didn’t cheer like crazy when Harry got us into the Champions’ League a few years back and thrilled at our early performances and, sure, like everyone else, I’d love us to get back into it and, indeed, emulate the old Arse-enema in doing so as a matter of routine. But I am sick of the fact that everything now these days is about the Premiership and the money it brings. To the bloated Europa League add bloated players’ salaries, bloated egos to match, bloated ticket prices, bloated TV coverage, total disregard for the fans, grass-routes football etc. etc. I could go on….and probably will at some point, after I take my medicine and get out of this curiously strapped jacket and stop banging my head against the wall.
Anyway, where was I, or, indeed, am I? Ah, yes, why I think that Thursday’s was a good result. Well, firstly, for long spells, we played as if we were the home team, attacking, dominating possession and playing (unlike the crab-like sideways passing fare that passed for possession under AVB, not to mention the early part of Pocchettino’s reign when, in his defence, he was still trying to work out such conundrums as ‘How the fuck is Paulinho a Brazilian international?’) going forward, with some good first-time passing. Yes, I know that we then cocked it up, as we still have a tendency to do, by failing to score when we should have done and gifting goals to the opposition when under no pressure ( when was the last time we kept a clean sheet?) but it was still encouraging to see, particularly given that Pocchettino had made several changes to the team. We weren’t hammered or outclassed – and let’s not forget that Fiorentina are 4th in Serie A ) – far from it, and that, I hope, should give us confidence for the Chelsea game.
Hopefully, we will return from Italy invigorated not just by the club’s decision to stay on and train for another day in a pleasant part of Italy but also by the thought that we don’t have to worry about those crappy Thursday games again. It should put a spring in our collective step. Regardless of Sunday’s result, hopefully that’ll bode well for the rest of our league performances. It may not be good enough for 4th place and, knowing our luck (remember Chelsea vs Bayern?), even if we did manage that, Everton will probably win the fucking Europa and take our place in the Champion’s League despite finishing halfway down the table.
Will we win on Sunday? Well, it’ll be interesting to see who Pochettino decides to play in goal, for a start. Like most other managers, he’s used this competition thus far to give regular bench players a game. I’d be surprised if he does so this weekend – after all, we’ve had to struggle through at least five games to get to this final. Mourinho, of course, will be doing his damnedest to make sure we don’t. He doesn’t like losing to the same team twice. Well, he doesn’t like losing, end of. He’s probably already alerting referees to how Harry Kane likes to try to injure his centre halves by sitting on the floor and hitting their feet with his back and will no doubt be pacing the touchline berating the fourth official about the fact that the ref didn’t see our captain blatantly handling the coin at the toss-up to choose ends. Personally, I’d settle for another performance that shows we are progressing – hard-pressing, creating chances, not rolling over and playing dead as we did all too often against the likes of Chelsea last year. And if we end up with a bit of silverware, better still. That would mean that we’d have already qualified for next year’s Europa League. Oh shit, I feel sick.Talk with your fellow Spurs fans about the cup final – head on over to our forum
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