Many would have not put the Tottenham Hotspur down for a 2015/16 English Premier League title challenge in the early parts of this season, and those who had may had been recommended to see a doctor. Spurs’ position at second in the league is believed to be helped on by a noticeable drop in the overall quality of a few of the usual top teams. However, it is hard to argue against the claim that Spurs have improved. Despite their improvements, they still possess visibly glaring problems. Harry Kane is the senior squad’s only recognised out-and-out centre-forward and whenever Mousa Dembélé has been injured, the team’s performances and results do reflect his absence from the midfield. Fatigue has also been considered as a factor that may be taking a toll on Mauricio Pochettino’s men; no thanks to the Thursday matches and trips they had across Europe throughout the season.
Despite the issues Spurs are facing, there is much belief in their camp, especially by their head figure, Mauricio Pochettino. Week-in week-out, Spurs display a fighting spirit to try and win each and every game, and it has been a driving factor for their campaign.
“I believe in my players. I show belief in them from the beginning of the season,” said Pochettino before Spurs’ most recent away match to West Ham. “The most important thing was to believe from the first day of pre-season. That’s the reason they behave like this today. They have a very strong mentality not only to play in the derbies, but for every game.”
Spurs has the best defensive and offensive record in the EPL so far this season, but this solidity at the back wavered against a very good Borussia Dortmund attack in the UEFA Europa League where Spurs were beaten by three (3) goals to nil (0). Spurs had never suffered a defeat by more than one goal difference in all competitions this season until Dortmund. Pochettino fielded a team with only a handful of first team players for that match and it resulted in Pochettino admitting that he may have made a mistake.
“Sometimes we rotate, sometimes maybe I made a mistake,” Pochettino said before the second leg tie with Dortmund. “We analyse our decision a lot. We can always do better and for that we are open to learn. Sometimes it is difficult and I accept in a very good way the criticism because always in football if you win you are a genius, if not, you are a disaster.”
Though Pochettino may have admitted he made a mistake with his team rotation, the mistake really came down to his underestimating of Dortmund and overestimating of the ability of his squad players. It becomes very evident when a look at the line-up he fielded for the first tie away to Fiorentina and the line-up he fielded for the first tie away to Dortmund is taken. Both teams that he fielded featured just four (4) notable first team regulars. They also both had Harry Kane and Moussa Dembélé starting on the bench; two of Spurs’ most impactful players this season. The similarities between how Pochettino approached both of these ties suggest that Pochettino believed his fielded squads were adequately equipped to earn favourable results. However, the real difference was found in the same results. Spurs earned a satisfactory 1:1 draw away to Fiorentina but was handed a 3:0 thrashing at the Westfalenstadion by Dortmund.
That particular away defeat to Dortmund proved to have given Spurs an insurmountable task of qualifying further into the Europa League knock-out rounds, but it may have also done Spurs a huge favour in the long run. It was quite clear that Pochettino has much faith in his squad, but many do question if the present squad is good enough to challenge in the UEFA Champions League next season, given that they qualify, and for EPL titles for seasons to come. The answer is uncertain given the low average age of the squad and how much they may continue to improve. However, Dortmund showed that Pochettino may have overestimated his squad’s quality and if he had thought that acquring a forward as back-up for Harry Kane would be the only business he’ll need to do in the summer to improve his squad, Dortmund has certainly given him much more to consider this summer.