Tottenham have two weeks respite from the pressures of the Premier League, but that doesn’t mean that the weight is off their shoulders.
Prior to Stoke City visiting White Hart Lane a week from Sunday, Tottenham must face two legs of a Europa League Round of 32 matchup against Belgium team Gent with a cross-London trip to Fulham for the FA Cup sandwiched in between.
No one is pretending here that these two teams represent much in terms of competition. Tottenham face much sterner tests every week in England’s top flight. Still, with injuries continuing to plague Mauricio Pochettino’s squad and the team dispirited from the loss against Liverpool, results might not be so easy to come by.
February often asks teams competing in the league as well as cups both international and domestic to perform a balancing act of some sort. Which competition, at that moment, offers not only the greatest likeliness of success, but also the greatest reward?
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For Pochettino it might just be that Tottenham’s title dreams are over hardly a month after they began. He nor anyone at the club would admit to that, but the loss against Liverpool both sets them back on points and morale at a crucial juncture. Concentrating on securing a second consecutive Champions League berth might now be the priority in the Premier League.
With such a competitive field for the three spots below Chelsea, that will prove a difficult task enough to begin with. How best, then, to balance that effort with actually winning some silverware this season?
The smart choice would be to favor the Europa League. There’s less of a chance Tottenham faces off against their Premier League rivals compared to the FA Cup, clearly. A favorable draw could also keep them from facing off against a comparably strong side until late in the competition.
Of course, the biggest draw is the possibility of a chance in next season’s Champions League qualifiers should they win the whole tournament. That would possibly take some of the pressure off should Tottenham slip down the Premier League table again this season.
There are downsides compared to the FA Cup, of course. Whereas reaching the Europa League final would mean surviving four two-legged rounds, the road to the FA Cup final is only three matches long. Bailing out on the Europa League would free up some significant room in Tottenham’s schedule for the tail end of the Premier League season.
Which route Tottenham choose might be made most evident by the teams selected to take on Gent and Fulham over the next week or so. If Pochettino uses his strongest XI on Thursday’s trip to Belgium, that’s as clear an indication as any that Spurs have thrown their lot in with Europe.
Check back later for our analysis of how Pochettino could tackle the Round of 32 if he wanted to favor the competition.