In an audacious case of misplaced priorities, Erik Lamela has dubbed Tottenham’s Europa League visit to Fiorentina this evening more important than their Capital One Cup final encounter with Chelsea on Sunday, as reported by the Daily Mail.
One can only hope Mauricio Pochettino doesn’t feel the same; whilst a fifth-place Fiorentina represent worthy enough opponents compared to the countless European minnows circling the Europa League, even without star man Juan Cuadrado, facing Premier League leaders Chelsea is a different proposition altogether.
Beating a Blues side at Wembley that have lost just three times in all competitions this term will take a performance parallel to the 5-3 drubbing the Lilywhites unleashed at White Hart Lane on New Years’ Day – made even harder by the west Londoners’ keenness to dish out some revenge after that historic defeat, especially following the injustice of losing Nemanja Matic to a controversial red card against Burnley last weekend.
Likewise, although the League Cup is viewed as a rather frivolous competition by the majority of Britain’s footballing public, Tottenham have the chance to claim their first piece of silverware since 2008, and will be in only their fifth final since their last FA Cup title in 1991. No offence to Spurs, but history suggests these opportunities don’t come around too often, and bettering the Blues on Sunday could have a huge influence on the rest of their campaign.
When Jose Mourinho first arrived in the Premier League in 2004, for example, he targeted the League Cup as his first and most important challenge, because he knew it would set a precedent of success for the years to come at Stamford Bridge.
That Chelsea side went on to lift two Premier League titles, two League Cups and an FA Cup under Mourinho, and although such consistent silverware isn’t expected of the Lilywhites, it could well have a similar effect on a young, ambitious and energetic squad intent on qualifying for next season’s Champions League. It’s also a monumental personal occasion for Pochettino as the first final of his management career, and the Argentine will be keen to maintain the psychological advantage he’s gained over Mourinho from earlier in the season.
Similarly, the Europa League can hardly claim superiority over the Capital One Cup, at least in terms of its reputation in England. Once dubbed ‘a killer’ by former Spurs boss Harry Redknapp, involvement in the continent’s second tier tournament has a tendency to eat away at domestic campaigns – something Tottenham know only too well – and unless you actually win it, it’s rarely worth the hassle.
Then again, perhaps Daniel Levy views things differently. Tottenham have, after all, participated in the Europa League in six of the last eight seasons without surpassing the quarter-finals and are yet to claim a European title since the UEFA Cup in 1983.
Why assemble a squad of holistic strength in depth, with little disparity of quality throughout, at such great cost and including players with vital experience on the European stage, such as Erik Lamela, Roberto Soldado, Hugo Lloris, Federico Fazio and Christian Eriksen, if you’re not in it to win it? The Lilywhites may lack a recognisable star like Luka Modric or Gareth Bale, but their current form and vibrant philosophy, installed so successfully by Pochettino this season, should be enough to see them make at least the latter stages.
But if Tottenham fans were given the choice of beating Fiorentina to advance to the quarter-finals of the Europa League, or defeat their London rivals to claim their first trophy in seven years, I feel fairly certain of what their answer would be. I assume the same for the majority of their players, barring Lamela of course; before great form or strong campaigns, it’s silverware footballers tend to reminisce upon most when eventually hanging up their boots – even if it is the League Cup.
The Europa League is viewed somewhat more favourably abroad, perhaps giving some insight into Lamela’s surprising views, but the Capital One Cup is an enormous opportunity for Spurs, and would encapsulate perfectly how far they’ve progressed under Pochettino in just a matter of months. Whilst the Europa League offers greater revenue and exposure on the continent, the League Cup, and the Tottenham manager’s first ever final, must take precedence.