Tottenham’s Champions League campaign has been nothing short of a shambles. Despite having already lost both their European ties at Wembley, against Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen respectively, Mauricio Pochettino’s men still had a chance, albeit a slim one, to squeeze their way into the next stage of the competition.
Instead of seizing that opportunity, however, the Argentine boss decided to rest a number of players against group leaders Monaco, instead focussing on the upcoming London derby against Chelsea in the Premier League.
The decision backfired; after being beaten by the Ligue 1 side and dropping out of the competition, they were then turned over by Antonio Conte’s men at Stamford Bridge.
Does Mauricio Pochettino again field a weakened team, risking elimination from Europe altogether to concentrate on the Premier League, which resumes with a trip to Manchester United on Sunday?
Or throw caution to the wind and show the Spurs supporters that they deserved their place in the competition in the first place?
Capitulating in important situations isn’t new to Spurs. But to work so hard in order to qualify for the Champions League, only to throw it away in order to focus on qualifying again via a league finish seems nonsensical.
With their Champions League exit now confirmed, however, the Europa League cannot be disregarded as an annoyance. Pochettino has established himself as his own man in regards to team selection and at the very least it provides him with a platform to blood the younger players in his squad such as Harry Winks, and struggling summer signings Moussa Sissoko and Vincent Janssen.
Suggesting Pochettino should name his strongest starting XI is a stretch, given a point will take them into the competition, but the former Southampton boss, who said the Europa League could "kill" teams while he was at St. Mary's, needs to find a balance.
Forward Son Heung-min is determined that the competition would not slow their Premier League charge, nor should qualifying be seen as a deterrent.
The South Korea international, who scored in the reverse fixture against CSKA, said: “We are a strong team, and everyone can play in every competition. It is very important. If we play in the Europa League, it won’t stop us finishing in the top four or five.
“It is really important to stay in European competition because we are out of the Champions League. For players, it is better when you play games. Wembley is a special stadium and we need to look forward to feeling comfortable there.”
It is a viewpoint not necessarily shared by all.
The argument that Spurs’ Champions League campaign has failed because of the switch to Wembley is a lazy assumption and somewhat of a cop-out. You can argue, however that the Spurs players have, at times, looked inexperienced and fatigued. Is, therefore, Pochettino worried European football will exhaust his squad? Possibly. Should Spurs roll over in front of 85,000 spectators at Wembley to ‘increase’ their chances of securing an unlikely Premier League title? Certainly not.
Regardless of which players are selected to start against the Russian side on Wednesday the Spurs squad, and indeed Pochettino, owe supporters a performance. A proud club, they must stand up and refuse to be eliminated from Europe without a whimper.