Why Tottenham and Pochettino must go all-out to ensure lightning does not strike twice in Europe
COMMENT By Matt Farr
Tottenham could have been facing off against a European heavyweight on Tuesday or Wednesday evening this week in the Champions League knockout-stages.
Instead, they find themselves battling KAA Gent for a place in the latter stages of the Europa League on Thursday – all because of a rare error of judgement from manager Mauricio Pochettino in regards to his team selection.
Faced with a more favourable Champions League group (certainly compared to their rivals) of AS Monaco, Bayer Leverkusen and CSKA Moscow, Pochettino wasted his side’s opportunity to make an impact on the European stage.
The White Hart Lane chief came under fire for his decision to rest key players during their group-stage campaign, a decision which ultimately cost them a place in the last-16 and resigned them to Europa League duties.
However, with a double-header against Belgian outfit KAA Gent on the horizon, Pochettino must be ready to prove he has learned from his mistakes, and ensure that the club does everything in its power to ensure lighting does not strike twice.
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The difference is this time around, that there is no ‘big game’ in the aftermath of their European exploits. Spurs are without a Premier League game until February 26th, after they have played both legs against Gent.
An FA Cup fifth round tie away at Fulham is scheduled between the two fixtures, but if there is a time for Pochettino to rest his key players it should be for the trip to Craven Cottage and not for the Europa League.
Of course, Fulham should not be underestimated – particularly after Tottenham’s narrow escape against Wycombe in the previous round – but Pochettino will know where the priorities lie, and will have their Champions League exit at the back of his mind.
Pochettino may have felt inclined to give the likes of Vincent Janssen, Georges Kevin-Nkoudou and Kevin Wimmer a run-out on Thursday night, but he must stick to his guns and take it to the Belgian side with all his assets on the table.
That means Harry Kane. That means Dele Alli. Christian Eriksen and Victor Wanyama, too. Genk will put up a fight – they finished top of their group ahead of Athletic Bilbao – but Tottenham have more than enough quality to send them packing and they must do just that.
The club worked exceptionally hard to fight their way back into European competitions last season, only to throw it away at the first hurdle. Now they have a shot at redemption in the Europa League.
It may not be as prestigious as Europe’s premier competition, but with competition to finish in the Premier League’s top four growing every week, no side is guaranteed a place in Europe next season.
Tottenham will consider themselves in a strong position at the moment to be back in the Champions League group-stage draw next year, but they must take nothing for granted and make the most of the opportunities they currently have.
In other Tottenham news, fans have reacted on Twitter to speculation linking them with a move for this unloved Premier League ace.