Two cups, one team
Fiorentina and Chelsea. Hold onto ya hats because you'll either have them blown away or have to hide under it so no one sees the tears. I called this a defining week. The back end of the last one wasn't great in terms of performance (the last gasp draw with West Ham) but I'm going to put that down to the fact that we're focused elsewhere. First in Italy, then at Wembley.
The Europa League has been a struggle for excitement. The players love a soundbite in the build up but logistically we've got more chance of winning silverware than we have of getting to the final. Why? We rotate because for a multitude of reasons. To keep the squad fresh, the opposition (during the group games) were hardly of daunting quality and the league game that follows is always prioritised. The angst has been the amount of games we've lost (especially at home) in that game that follows. All that rotation not making a difference. It's paradoxical.
If you play your strongest line-up on a Thursday night then arguably you're going overboard because a mix and match could still do the job. Be it with plenty of labouring. So naturally rotating has its values in theory. More so when you consider that initial patch of the fixture list where Thursday night football was frequent. Playing two games in the space of four days might not seem monumental in isolation but it's straining if it's attempted every time.
Away goals required at Fiorentina then. Mauricio Pochettino has called it the first of two cup finals. More soundbites. I still can't shake off that feeling that clubs perceive that top four place as the most vital of achievements. Even with the winner of the Europa League gaining qualification to the Champions League, with the essence of cup football in mind, there is absolutely no room for redemption. You lose and you're out. It's done. The bread and butter of the league is far more forgiving. Drop points, you can make them up. Others around you are in the same boat.
As a supporter I want to win all games. I'm not one to sacrifice, I hate it when I start weighing up odds and what is best for the team long term. The fact is, we're still in this competition. We should be aiming to win every competition (as far fetched as that might be). How else do you breed a winning mentality? How else do you give the fans that defining moment of glory that history never forgets? That's the real priority in football even if the pragmatism of travelling and burn-out nods disapprovingly.
Winning silverware should be the priority. Sunday will give us that opportunity as we face up to Chelsea in a cup final for a third time. We're 2-0 up currently. As for Fiorentina, if the team considers the occasion as a singularity and not a game to be approached tentatively (as to avoid injuries) then the performance has to breed that momentum to get us through the game and push onto Wembley. Otherwise, what's the point?