Tottenham were brought back down to earth with a bump on Sunday as the high-flying London side were unexpectedly beaten 2-1 at home by relegation candidates Newcastle.
For Mauricio Pochettino, the unfortunate result will help to keep a young team’s feet on the ground and see the Argentine return to the drawing board ahead of important upcoming games.
One of the things that has been coined as an improvement this term from seasons past has been the supposed mental toughness and collective spirit that the team has shown this year. Despite the late collapse against Steve McClaren’s men going against this theory, there has certainly been evidence that Tottenham have been tougher to beat in 2015/16 and are all pulling together in the same direction to achieve a common goal.
A key challenge for Pochettino and his men was always going to be the Europa League this season, with qualifying for the tournament presenting another campaign for the Lilywhites to juggle domestic duties with participation in the second-tier continental competition.
The North London side have traditionally had a poor record in the Premier League in the games that they have played following a Thursday night European clash, which was not helped with the defeat to Newcastle. However, despite the Champions League being the ultimate goal for Spurs, there is reason to suggest that the Europa League this season could well be the acid test to show just who far they have come under Pochettino.
The White Hart Lane outfit have been drawn against last season’s conquerors Fiorentina in the round of 32, with the yard stick set to be brought out against the Italians to monitor potential improvement. La Viola are, perhaps, stronger this term than they were when they dumped Spurs from the competition earlier this year, with Paulo Sousa leading the Stadio Artemio Franchi outfit to an unlikely Scudetto push.
For Spurs to show that they have learnt their lessons from defeat to Fiorentina last season and to suggest that they are in a better position now than then, a number of things must happen.
In the first leg against the Serie A side last season, Tottenham were rampant in the early exchanges at White Hart Lane and took the lead through Roberto Soldado. However, the Italians rallied and recorded a 1-1 draw that set them up to prevail.
This time round, Spurs must show that they can beat a team of Fiorentina’s calibre in a one-off game at home and be more clinical than they were the last time the sides met in North London.
The English club’s manager will also be put under the spotlight, with his team selections for the Europa League a key element to the side’s success, or lack of it. Last season Pochettino selected a strong side to face Fiorentina in the away leg, only to lose, and then lose again at Wembley in the Capital One Cup Final against Chelsea a couple of days later. The Argentine, just like his team, must evolve, and getting the correct balance of priorities will also be a challenge for the former Southampton trainer.
Despite the defeat to Newcastle at the weekend, Tottenham look to be another step or two along their ongoing project under Pochettino and there is every reason for optimism.
However, to prove the Spurs fans’ faith in the current group accurate, a statement of intent against last season’s conquerors Fiorentina is necessary.