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Tottenham: Pochettino’s attitude to domestic cups is all wrong

Tottenham are closing in on a decade without a trophy. Colin Millar asks if boss Mauricio Pochettino is making the right call in dismissing domestic cup competitions.


Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino’s comments earlier this week insisting that his team are focussed on winning ‘two real trophies’ rather than concerning themselves with the EFL Cup have rightly come under scrutiny this week. 

Whilst not totally dismissing either of England’s two domestic competitions, Pochettino contrasted the situation to other top European leagues where only one domestic cup takes up the attentions of the other top division sides.

With the Argentine insisting the Premier League or Champions League were the only two trophies that would ‘really change your life’, questions have been raised about his ambitions for the North London club. 

What does success look like?

Pochettino’s argument was focused and contained logic – the domestic league and Champions League are the ultimate benchmarks for a club’s success. More often than not, a league table reflects consistency over the course of a season while Europe’s main club trophy is the one true yardstick for a side’s level at the top of European football.

Cup trophies, he insisted, were good to win but ultimately are only supplements to success elsewhere and no indicator of real progress. Dismissive of the correlation between cup success and glory in the ‘main’ trophies, the 45-year-old instead argued such a heavy fixture load could often be a hindrance and games which featured rotated squads could not be read into.

After a remarkable week which saw his side secure a well-deserved point in a pulsating encounter at the Bernabeu against the European champions and blow away Liverpool 4-1, few could object to rotations for the EFL Cup clash against the Hammers. Indeed, that he made only seven alterations to the Sunday’s winning side was relatively pragmatic and his counterpart Slaven Bilic made two more – with only Cheikhou Kouyate and Manuel Lanzini maintained from their game against Brighton five days prior.

White Hart Drain?

Much has been made of the stadium move from White Hart Lane to Wembley, but less has been mentioned of a potential draining effect on the players. This can be measured tangibly – in the increased pitch dimensions – as well as psychologically. 

Players and staff often reference how playing in such an iconic stadium can be mentally exhausting, especially one does not, and will not, feel like home. The pitch itself is one metre wider and a notable five metres longer than the one at the Lane. 

Whilst this may appear relatively insignificant to many fans, such marginal differences are key not just in terms of team preparation and formation but also on fitness. Teams need to run more and cover greater ground, and whilst in one-off matches this may not take a toll, it’s a different story over the course of a season. 

Pochettino himself said star striker Harry Kane was feeling fatigued, hence his absence from Wednesday’s defeat. Many of Spurs’ players, Kane included, also have regularly played on this pitch for England. Its dimensions are the maximum for those allowed in the Premier League, while their previous home was among the smallest. This is an understated yet key challenge for Pochettino this season and his squad strength and rotation ability will be tested.

The Cupboard is Bare

That Mauricio Pochettino has yet to win a trophy as manager is a criticism that has frequently been thrown against him. Whilst at Espanyol and Southampton this was unremarkable, the spotlight has been understandably intensified since joining the North London club. Many credit him as being the best coach in England, consistently achieving excellent results, playing a progressive and flexible brand of football whilst operating on a relatively modest budget. Liverpool – whom his side so comprehensively outclassed – have roughly a wage expenditure double the size of Spurs.

A key counter-argument to his approach to domestic cup football is Jose Mourinho. The Manchester United boss has won four League Cups – three whilst at Chelsea – alongside an FA Cup and the main cup competitions in Portugal, Italy and Spain. His coaching career has included 25 trophies of various shades and many point to his success in domestic cups playing a fundamental part in his creation of a ‘winning culture’ across clubs.

However, not every manager and not every group of players is the same. Whether an EFL Cup defeat impacts directly on Spurs’ league form is yet unclear. Last season their exit from the competition at Anfield was followed by only two league wins in six. In contrast, their FA Cup semifinal defeat at Chelsea preceded back-to-back league victories, including a North London derby triumph.

Yet Mourinho himself came under fire after his perceived negative approach for Manchester United at Anfield less than a fortnight ago. His team were on a roll of winning with multiple goals, yet decided to relinquish such momentum in order to secure a draw. Many also drew the links with subsequent below-par performances against Benfica and Huddersfield.

The People’s Momentum

Spurs, coasting at 2-0 before suffering a 15-minute collapse against the Hammers can likely be put down to a mix of fatigue and complacency. Although Pochettino’s pre-match comments may not have been inaccurate, they are unlikely to have helped at a psychological level. Many player’s energy levels will drop at a subconscious level not just when leading by two goals, but when knowing the game is not of particular importance or significance.

Momentum can be hard to gain and easy to throw away. Manchester United appear to have learned this in recent weeks but, conversely, their 2-0 midweek win at Swansea will have lifted spirits and morale. Jose Mourinho and Mauricio Pochettino come head-to-head on Saturday, which will be a fascinating test of how much of an impact the results of the EFL Cup have on the so-called ‘real trophies’. 

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Colin Millar

Colin Millar is a European football writer, with a particular passion for Spanish and English football, alongside that in his native Northern Ireland. Based in Spain, he is Deputy Editor of Football Espana and writes for a number of publications including the Daily Mirror NI.

Tottenham: Pochettino’s attitude to domestic cups is all wrong

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