Tottenham 3 Russians 1
I'm actually happy with this. Obviously. If you're Spurs, why wouldn't you be?
You're happy, right?
We won. At Wembley. Finally. Rejoice!
Okay, sure, it's a mix bag of emotions because we got knocked out of the Champions League thanks mostly to our tentative approach in the other games played at our home away from home. We didn't exactly go for it in terms of expressive full pelt football. Once more, Spurs have lost out here because of Spurs and not necessarily because - on paper - we deserved to drop into the Europa League. It's frustrating. Mauricio Pochettino doesn't like the cup games when comparing them to his prioritisation of the league. We've yet to find a suitable gear to accommodate both.
I still don't blame Wembley. Of course, it had an influence. There's no denying it's been an uncomfortable shift. It isn't the same as being at the Lane. This is a discussion that needs no fleshing out. We all know it. If the club want to play at the national stadium (for all of next season) then we can't stand around complaining. Bemoaning the logistics of the N17 development is just filler. An acceptance that cannot be escaped, whilst the inevitable rebuild of our spiritual dwelling continues.
A year out, it's a sacrifice...it's unavoidable unless you're happy to sit it out at MK Don's or another reduced capacity venue and then pretend that it will help us build a psychological fortress whilst a fair chunk of supporters set it out for a year. That's probably a sacrifice too far and commercially, the club were unlikely to ignore the current option we've taken.
Wembley might inspire the away team but how about making it an arena that inspires us - giving them something more than a day-trip to remember. A good smack in the mouth would do for starters. Figuratively speaking.
As for the Europa.
What an abusive relationship this is forever cursed to be. It never feels like we're interested in this 'chore'. This time round it might be a blessing, simply because we'll get to play and win a few more games (hopefully) - be it with sixty or so thousand fans rather than eighty thousand plus. Even if it means the shift to Thursday and to Sunday. Even if we're back where we started and tried hard to get away from. Football is cruel like that. It forces us to change perspective. We end up trying to validate and rationalise. It's all still a learning curve. We make a negative transform into a positive.
'Let's try to win it! Yeah?'
Let's face, there's more chance of us winning the Europa than sticking our ribbons on the Champions League but our mentality (from coach to players to most fans) is that we'd all rather attempt to win the impossible. Except we did nothing of the kind to suggest we wanted to. We whimpered rather than swaggered. That lack of change of gear might partly be because of the decision not to play European football at the Lane but it's mainly thanks to our very slow start to the season. We just haven't been great and we've been punished for our slackness.
Of course, historically, the manner in which we've applied ourselves to the Europa in recent times suggests we're not in the right frame of mind for that either. There's no real form to suggest we'll take it as serious as say Sevilla. Wanting us to do well is only because we're in it and if we pick up in the league, watch me squirm again and suggest we 'mug off this competition whilst we aim for the big one'. Spurs have to take all the theorising away from us by performing well in both comps. Then all we need to worry about is how drunk we wish to get watching and willing the players on.
Very few of the remaining teams in the Champs League have a genuine chance to win it. But that isn't the point, is it? Competing against the best is inspiring and promotes stature. Visiting Madrid or Barcelona (even if you're likely to get dicked) is hype compared to whatever the EL dishes out. Still, that ain't the right attitude to have. Winning the Europa - not just for silverware - will go someway in consolidating all the graft and give us something tangible to celebrate. Something you can touch. This is the abusive part. Gonna cite my favourite world (after synergy). It's all paradoxical.
Will the EL cause us grief or will it be a welcomed distraction as we seek to manage more than a single competition with assured belief to prove we can challenge on two fronts? The positive was the line-up Poch selected and the fact that (even if they scored against the run of play, which was ominously like previous group matches) we came back to win and do so well.
At least our philosophy isn't totally concentrated on 'qualifying for the Champions League' so we can have another adventure. Of course, making up the numbers is something other clubs might focus on year in and year out. Having an adventure is most definitely a Tottenham trait we'd all welcome (especially after the one in 2011). Yet after last season and possibly this one, Spurs are aiming to challenge for the title and the CL is the bonus rather than the main prize. That still doesn't mean we can't go out and enjoy ourselves. That will ultimately be a lot more satisfying than being dumped out of the group with little excitement. Spurs still haven't got it right in Europe. We haven't for a quite a while now.
Finishing 4th might end up being the (forced) target if we remain inconsistent but I like that we're looking higher. We still want to win the league and it isn't as far fetched and improbable as claiming the continental Champions variant. At least I am (confident) and you'll be hard pushed to find someone that would be completely dismissive of this stance. Even though I'd admit if we don't go on a solid run of wins soon, the opportunity will pass us by. Which then means we'll change our perspective again, what with the Europa offering automatic CL qualification. I'd rather not think too much about this scenario (it would mean us accepting a 5th place finish). Winning a cup should be about the silverware and not a backdoor technicality.
Playing in any competition should result in the desire to win in it. That doesn't quite sync with the domestic cups (in recent years, although Poch did reach the League Cup final). Will the second tier of European competition be a repeat performance? A means to make Wembley more homely? Or will playing there finally wake us up to the reality that it's the only stadium that matters in the immediate future if you care for words like 'fortress'?
Don't throw your pearls to pigs.
This experience, this season thus far, suggests that Poch and his team have plenty of work to do in order to comfortably compete in both league and the top tier. Our gaffer was asked if we'd be playing a full strength side in the Europa and he skipped around answering it definitively.
'You have to play with honour if you want to win' (paraphrasing)
Meaning he'll still probably rotate. Perhaps that's the biggest issue at play. We have to rotate or we'll suffer in the long term. Spurs still requiring two or three additional top quality players for the squad, to avoid criticism of selection, simply by virtue of quality available.
Onwards again Spurs.