Tottenham’s showing at Turf Moor was fairly insipid yesterday and the internet has been chuntering away ever since.
Up until a month ago, the atmosphere surrounding White Hart Lane was very laissez faire and it was readily accepted that, whilst imperfect, Spurs’ 2014/15 had been about as enjoyable as an experimental season can ever be. Four points from Arsenal, Chelsea battered at White Hart Lane, a cup final and too much last-minute drama to recall…it’s been fun.
Yes, some of the recent performances have been underwhelming, but that doesn’t demand the abandonment of context.
The Champions League isn’t in-play and it never really has been. Maybe, in a fit of optimism, some supporters convinced themselves otherwise, but the top-four is a future objective rather than a current imperative. The win/loss record over the next seven games isn’t actually particularly relevant, but the lessons learnt from those fixtures could be very pertinent.
Europa League football has already been secured so, whilst league placing remains important, those remaining games are not quite as crucial as they might have been. They’re there to be won, certainly, but the time to fret over performances and sulk over team-selections has been and gone.
Instead, think about what happens next.
Come the Summer, there are clearly some personnel decisions which need to be made. The value in this campaign has clearly been in the emergence of the homegrown trio - Nabil Bentaleb, Harry Kane and Ryan Mason - but although those players have shown themselves to be capable of being regular Premier League starters, the squad as a whole is still in flux.
When the season ends, there will be an influx of new players. Paul Mitchell was brought to North London to alter the club’s recruitment model and June and July will provide the first visible signs of his impact.
If that process is to be a success, both this Summer and in future transfer-windows, important decisions need to be made about the composition of the first-team; which players are assets, which ones can be moved on to help finance the new direction.
Between now and the middle of May, Mauricio Pochettino needs to be given some leeway. The inclusion of a Paulinho or a Vlad Chiriches, for example, is actually quite reasonable. These are under-utilised fringe players who, whether by playing or by being sold, have a value to the club and about whom a decision has to be made sooner rather than later.
At a guess, that’s probably why they were named in the first-eleven on Sunday - and why they, and others, will be seen more regularly across the remaining games. Tottenham aren’t quite in a ‘nothing to play for’ situation, but the season is petering out and this is the opportune moment for last chances.
It’s easy to dismiss Paulinho, but the reality is that - if sold tomorrow - the club would suffer a substantial loss on their initial investment. Largely awful though he may have been, a player doesn’t win 32 caps for Brazil with the kind of performances he’s produced in England, so it’s reasonable to assume that there is some latent talent there.
Maybe his confidence is shattered beyond repair? Maybe his poor form is a symptom of cumulative fatigue? Or maybe Tottenham still haven’t quite worked out how to use him?
Different explanations, varying degrees of plausibility.
Who knows - but while there’s still time and the opportunity still exists, it’s worth persevering for the sake of being sure.
These last few weeks provide the opportunity to work through these kind of problems and, as such, they have to be treated almost in isolation. There will be plenty of Paulinho, probably also more Chiriches and, maybe, a little bit of Stambouli, Soldado and Dembele, too.
Tolerate it; it’s for the greater good.
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