Tottenham still glow in the Wembley half-light 4

Losing final performances and cold-hearted analysis don’t go together particularly well. In games of less significance, it’s far easier to distance yourself and evaluate a team’s performance without the weight of context. You can write about a game’s passing-triangles, pressing patterns and conversion statistics when the result is incidental, but not when you’re emotionally invested.

Tottenham lost at Wembley yesterday and a gallant, mature performance from their young side wasn’t quite enough to knock an iron-jawed Chelsea team off-balanced.

Because finals are so absolute and because little matters beyond the literal winning and losing, there will be 4,000-word post mortems, there will presumably be accusations made about the referee and Mauricio Pochettino’s tactics will be re-examined in excruciating detail.

For some Spurs fans, that will be a cathartic process and over-analysis will be their way of working through the disappointment of losing a game that meant an awful lot.

As a coping mechanism it’s fine, but that kind of occasion is better evaluated on simpler terms and, in spite of the growing intellectualisation of football, a Wembley final is still just a jumble of emotions and platitudes.

So what was yesterday to Tottenham?

Actually, a source of great pride.

Beyond the natural resentment that Spurs’ fans have towards Chelsea, it’s worth remembering what they are: an extravagantly resourced football club with a galaxy of world class players who are, with a few exceptions, the strongest side in the country on a position-by-position basis.

Tottenham didn’t really threaten in the final-third yesterday and, barring those last few frantic seconds, there was never really a point at which Jose Mourinho’s back-six looked anything other than comfortable. But, regardless, when Mauricio Pochettino reviews the tape of that game, he will still see much that pleases him.

Eric Dier’s return to England attracted little attention. The now twenty-one year-old was seen as a low-cost gamble who would, during his first season, do little more than plug gaps in the defence as and when they opened. His development has been a revelation, though. He’s had difficult moments over the past six months and there have been occasions where his lack of experience has been exploited by opponents, but yesterday he gave a performance of immense maturity against the nastiest, smartest, most dangerous forward in the country.

Centre-backs are too often judged on how many last-ditch actions they make - the Jamie Carragher fallacy - but, actually, a measure of a centre-half is how rarely he leaves his feet. There was a composure to Eric Dier yesterday and a wisdom to his defending that, perhaps, nobody could have expected to see this soon. His defending wasn’t all effort and Cup Final desperation, it was measured and nuanced.

English football’s next big hope at centre-back is, by consensus, Everton’s John Stones. That’s not inaccurate and it’s not just hyperbole - Stones is an exceptionally cultured defender- but Dier is a better player. He’s very capable with the ball at his feet, but his game-reading ability is extremely developed for someone who has had so little Premier League exposure.

What a pleasant surprise he’s been and what a testament he is to the coaching ability of Pochettino and his technical staff. Dier didn’t arrive at White Hart Lane as the player he is now, he’s become that calibre of performer over the course of the season.

Nabil Bentaleb improvement has been similarly remarkable. To the lazy, the Algerian is a Tim Sherwood creation and they would have you believe that he is exactly the same player who made his debut at St Mary’s little more than a year ago.

Not true. As a footballer, Bentaleb now exists in a completely different stratosphere. There are holes in his game and there are still naiveties but, while under Sherwood he was an acquired taste amongst Tottenham fans, now there is no doubt that he will become a very fine player indeed.

His performance yesterday was frequently delightful. He didn’t freeze on the Wembley stage, he played his football, he expressed himself and his contributions were laced with that familiar class that Spurs fans are starting to associate with him. Bentaleb is a strange composition: he’s three parts elegance, one part bastard - the perfect modern midfielder who, at his career’s peak, will be amongst the game’s elite.

You could write these evaluations for almost every player who started yesterday - Ryan Mason had good moments, Harry Kane was bright, Andros Townsend’s improvement was very apparent.

And that’s really the point: this was a defeat, but it felt like a necessary defeat on the way to something better. Spurs were beaten - and they were beaten by a superior, stronger team - but they lost in a gallant, un-Tottenham way.

There’s growth here. In the past, Tottenham have relied upon the rare talent of individuals to elevate them up the league table, but this Pochettino min-era already seems different. The Argentine isn’t hitching his wagon to a Gareth Bale, a Luka Modric or a Dimitar Berbatov, he’s developing a cohesive football team. There have been wins and losses, highs and lows, but every week there seems to be a new encouraging detail.

That’s what progression is. If supporters are able to see a final destination on the horizon, then they find it much easier to cope with the bumps and the wrong-turnings that occur on the actual journey.

Wembley was one of those bumps and the sting of defeat will be felt for a while yet, but there isn’t a rational Tottenham supporter waking up this morning who doesn’t feel good about the future.

Follow @SebSB