With the majority of Tottenham’s fixtures for the next month and a half now set, following the FA Cup Fourth Round draw at home to Wycombe Wanderers; a sense of déjà vu now dawns upon Mauricio Pochettino.
During last season’s incredible, yet unexpected, exploits the Argentine opted to sacrifice England’s premier cup competition as well as the Europa League in favour a push for Tottenham’s first league title since 1961. Spurs bowed out to Crystal Palace in the FA Cup, losing 1-0, while Borussia Dortmund walked over a second string Spurs side, winning 5-1 on aggregate. While Pochettino’s decision did not produce the required results, many fans were in agreement with their manager. However, having been knocked out of the Champions League rather meekly, Spurs’ manager has to decide between the same three competitions yet again.
Making nine changes from Wednesday night’s impressive win against Chelsea, Spurs were not troubled in a 2-0 win at home to Aston Villa in the third round – but did require substitutes Georges-Kevin N’Koudou and Dele Alli to come on and make an impact.
However, Pochettino will be pleased to have given his reserve men 90 minutes in the new 3-4-2-1 formation, which the likes of Ben Davies, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Vincent Janssen and Michel Vorm were yet to play in. With Gareth Ainsworth’s in-form Chairboys to come at White Hart Lane at the end of January, Pochettino will be hoping to give a similar starting XI further experience in his new-look formation. The likes of Kyle Walker-Peters, Marcus Edwards, Josh Onomah and Pau Lopez may be looking for further squad appearances versus the League Two side; who boast one of English football’s in-form players in summer signing, Scott Kashket, whilst Erik Lamela may look to ease himself back in from long-term injury if he is ready in time.
Meanwhile, in the Europa League, K.A.A Gent await – with Tottenham opting to remain at Wembley Stadium in order to help acclimatise the players to the larger pitch and differing conditions ahead of next season’s move away. Whilst the Belgian outfit will be a tougher test than Wycombe, Pochettino will likely use a largely second string side to give key men such as Alli, Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen breaks, although Toby Alderweireld and Hugo Lloris are unlikely to be rested if Pochettino’s previous selections in the competition are anything to go by.
With the Premier League title being an even bigger ask than last season, Pochettino would be unwise to sacrifice the cups so soon, and may wait until March to see where his side stand in the league. If the title is still a realistic possibility, despite Antonio Conte’s side’s already impressive gap, he may be given autonomy to go hell for leather in an attempt to win the league.
However, should Spurs still be in third, fourth or below, it might be wiser to attempt to win the Europa League – with weaker competition than last season – which would guarantee Champions League qualification; as well as Tottenham’s first trophy since the 2008 League Cup. Should both competitions be out of Pochettino’s grasp, Spurs fans would not blink twice if offered a first FA Cup since 1991 – especially if a semi-final win against Arsenal was part of the package.
Whilst it is no secret that Pochettino is eager to win the league with Tottenham, no manager is remembered for his ability to overachieve in the league table and Pochettino is no different. To establish himself amongst the elite of his profession, he must start adding trophies to his cabinet. And while the FA Cup may not be what it used to be, a win would not only be the Argentine’s first piece of silverware, but it would ignite Spurs’ players with a winning mentality that could see them push on in ‘bigger’ competitions.