An agonising defeat in the Capital One Cup Final on Sunday evening left many Tottenham fans devastated, especially after the promise shown in the first half of the game. Spurs dominated the majority of the first forty-five minutes and were inches away from taking the lead with Christian Eriksen striking the bar from a fantastic free-kick. John Terry’s deflected goal gave Chelsea the lead and it was another lucky ricochet that allowed Diego Costa to double the lead and win the Cup. The loss, against the Champions elect, was not shameful by any means but hugely disappointing after what has become a fantastic season to be a Spurs fan. Despite the loss, there are many positives to take from the run in the Cups and also to look forward to in the final leg of the League season.
With twelve games to go in the season, only a Champions League final for Chelsea will allow them to come close to the number of games Spurs will have played by the end of the season. On top of the usual 38 Premier League game season, Spurs played three FA Cup games, six Capital One Cup games and 10 Europa League games; equalling 57 games.
Huge credit must go to Mauricio Pochettino for the way in which he has rotated and balanced the squad this year, as well as the trust he has placed in young players; from both the academy and signings. Of the players to feature in Sunday’s final, only Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen, Nacer Chadli, Roberto Soldado and Mousa Dembélé were 25 years old or older – only three of those five started – an average age of 24. The rest of the side, comprised mostly of Englishmen, were young and fit players who were a match for the system that Pochettino wishes to implement at the Club for the long-term. The older players in the squad struggled to grasp the high-intensity, high-pressing system and the likes of Etienne Capoue, Emmanuel Adebayor, Roberto Soldado, Aaron Lennon, Younes Kaboul and Mousa Dembélé made way for Nabil Bentaleb, Ryan Mason, Harry Kane, Andros Townsend, and Eric Dier. These younger players, many of whom spent several years in the academy , understand the ethos and direction of the club, allowing them to progress further and give their all for the shirt. After a lot of uncertainty and lack of identity amongst the squad in the 2013/14 season, many Spurs fans see this new batch of players as a welcome relief. Pochettino has also given debuts to Joshua Onomah and Harry Winks with Luke McGee and Dominic Ball being rewarded with places on the bench over the course of the season.
The football this season, especially since the change in playing personnel after the home defeat to Stoke in November, has been much better than Pochettino’s predecessors André Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood could manage. Whilst the defence doesn’t look as stable as it did in Villas-Boas’ first season, Pochettino has added an attacking identity and free spirited play that can be likened to Harry Redknapp’s days in charge. Kane and Christian Eriksen have provided the brunt of the goals, supported earlier in the season by Chadli but with a midfield anchored by Bentaleb and Mason, the pressing is more intense and the passing much more incise, with the Algerian completing 92% of passes in the Final. These players were pivotal in the 5-3 home win over Chelsea on New Year’s Day and the 2-1 North London Derby win at the start of February. Both games involved fantastic pressing, great passing and some very good quality goals, especially on New Year’s Day.
This summer is incredibly important for the Club, something that’s been said many times over the years. Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen have to be kept at the club and a new defender, midfielder, winger and at least one striker need to be added. The sales of Kaboul, Capoue, Vlad Chiriches, Mousa Dembélé, Paulinho, Soldado, Adebayor and Lennon would raise a lot of money for incoming players. Paul Mitchell, Daniel Levy and Franco Baldini will be important in providing Pochettino with the funds and players he needs to take the Club forward next season. Pochettino’s first season has been a success in many ways, with many believing that the Argentinian has overachieved. Not many Spurs fans would have believed that the Club would have been in contention for a top five finish and reach a Cup final in his first season, especially after such a turbulent start and the events of last season. Pochettino must be backed this summer for any chance of an ambitious Champions League finish next season.
Finally, I’d like to pay a tribute to Spurs legend Dave Mackay, who passed away on Monday 2nd March at the age of 80. An inspirational Captain, hardman, member of the 1961 double side and 51 goals for the Club place Mackay in the history books at White Hart Lane forever. May he rest in peace.