Spurs boss is eyeing an FA Cup run - but can his squad handle the work-load?
12:38 06 January 2015
PA Wire/Press Association Images
Last night’s FA Cup tie at Burnley answered two questions – how seriously are Tottenham taking the FA Cup this season? And is there any way back for the group that Mauricio Pochettino has exiled?
Spurs already have their hands full this season, having reached the semi-finals of the Capital One Cup and the last 32 of the Europa League while sitting two points outside the top four in the Premier League.
With all of that in mind, it is debatable whether they really need an FA Cup campaign as well. A fourth competition might be the straw that breaks the camel’s back, stretching Spurs’ resources beyond their limits and undermining their chances of success in the other tournaments.
However, away last night’s 1-1 draw at Turf Moor, home wins against Burnley in next week’s replay and then Leicester would put Spurs in the last 16 of the historic competition, so who would possibly want to drop out now?
Pochettino’s line-up was strong enough to prove that he is taking the cup seriously. Four members of the back five would probably have started if it had been a Premier League fixture – the exception being goalkeeper Michel Vorm – while Christian Eriksen and the goalscorer Nacer Chadli were included in the starting line-up.
Vorm, Paulinho and Roberto Soldado have spent most of the Christmas period on the bench so they predictably got their opportunities.
However, this was hardly a case of throwing in all of the reserves, and Pochettino clearly wasn’t bothered about keeping all of his fringe players happy. There were some notable absentees – again.
Young Eric Dier has hardly had a look-in recently but he was left among the substitutes and, more significantly, academy winger Joshua Onomah was named on the bench instead of club captain Younes Kaboul, Aaron Lennon and Emmanuel Adebayor.
Lennon was suffering from a slight knock to his right foot and Kaboul was ill, but their stock has fallen so far that it is perfectly possible that Pochettino would have taken Onomah on the trip for the experience anyway. Even when they have been available recently, Kaboul, Lennon and Adebayor have not made the bench and it seems clear that Tottenham will shift them this month if they can.
Pochettino took a while to choose his best team and identify which players he could trust - which players were buying into his methods and philosophy. In fact he arguably took too long, and the lack of consistency in team selections was a major factor in Spurs’ fluctuating form up to and including the home defeat at Stoke on November 9 – the low point of the season.
That seemed to sharpen the Argentine’s focus and, since then, he has settled on a favoured line-up – albeit with valuable competition here and there – and thrown a group of players into the wilderness.
Adebayor has not played since Stoke and Kaboul has featured once – the 1-0 defeat at Besiktas in the Europa League, when he gave the ball away inside his own half for the decisive goal.
Lennon had a run of games at the end of November and start of December, but he has now been left out of the last seven matchday squads.
Etienne Capoue has made two brief substitute appearances since November 9 and Kyle Naughton has played once, before Kyle Walker returned from injury.
The result? Spurs have won eight out of 13 games in all competitions, showing great work-rate and also character in coming from behind to beat Hull and Everton, grabbing a late winner at Swansea and putting five goals past Chelsea – all without their supposed leader, Kaboul.
That decision was clearly a mistake from Pochettino, but he has not made many more in the last two months.
The question is whether he can maintain Spurs’ momentum and continue to progress in four competitions while overlooking so many members of his squad.
Tottenham only named 23 players in their 25-man Premier League roster at the start of September. Under-21 players Harry Kane, Nabil Bentaleb, Ben Davies and Dier do not need to be included in that list, but three of those 23 registered players are goalkeepers and Pochettino seems resolved not to use five of the others.
Spurs are hardly beset with injuries at the moment but, with Erik Lamela and Ryan Mason in the treatment room and Bentaleb now away at the African Cup of Nations, Pochettino is having to rely on an increasingly small pool of players.
It is highly debatable whether he can even rely on the reserves who remain involved – Soldado got a chance last night at Burnley but, after 45 minutes, Spurs had not had a single shot on goal and Kane, who was due a much-needed rest, had to come on at half-time. Paulinho has also offered very little since his move to White Hart Lane and shows no sign of improvement.
Delve below Spurs’ first-choice XI and there is little strength in depth – at centre-back, on the left flank, in the No10 position or up front – and Mousa Dembele and Benjamin Stambouli were the only available central midfielders yesterday, apart from the out-of-favour Capoue, who notably remained on the bench when Pochettino withdrew Stambouli at the break.
The fact that Pochettino had to name Naughton and Capoue in his squad at all underlined the issue, given that they hadn’t even got that far in the previous four games.
Tottenham now have a consistency in their team selections which has shown in their much-improved results.
The question is how long the same players can keep it up, with six or seven games to come before the end of January – and whether Tottenham will do the amount of business in the current transfer window which is apparently required.
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