After Tottenham Hotspur’s immensely disappointing European campaign, and with Chelsea looking to already be champions in all-but-name, the FA Cup must take added importance for the North London outfit going into the final few months of the season.
Spurs’ comprehensive 3-0 victory at Fulham in the fifth round of the competition was sandwiched between two immensely frustrating and demoralising performances against Belgian minnows KAA Gent, which saw them drop out of the Europa League – a competition bemoaned by a majority of the fanbase, but one in which the Lilywhites were comfortably one of the best sides.
With only one trophy left to fight for, progress in the FA Cup has to be prioritised for this season to be considered a success. Spurs have only one game a week for the remainder of the campaign, and a favourable home tie against Millwall looks to have given them a route to Wembley – which makes success in the famous competition a definite possibility.
Spurs have lost three times in the league in the last 14 games against the likely semi-finalists, taking 11 points of a possible 12 against Manchester City in the last two seasons, going unbeaten against Arsenal since Mauricio Pochettino took charge, though despite outplaying Chelsea at White Hart Lane back in January.
Their record against Antonio Conte’s side is less impressive, with two draws, a defeat and a win in the last two seasons, while Manchester United have got the better of Spurs in two of the last three occasions. But, they play Chelsea in the quarter finals – so one of Spurs’ ‘bogey’ teams will go out at the next stage.
The point is, the trophy is definitely winnable, and the fact that the games are held at Wembley – where the results, if not the performances, have been nothing short of horrific – should not deter Mauricio Pochettino from playing his strongest side in the competition.
It has been a long wait at Spurs for a trophy – none since Robbie Keane and Ledley King lifted the League Cup on the back of a 2-1 victory against Chelsea in 2008. Winning the FA Cup would, however, be comparable with the top four finishes achieved by Harry Redknapp and Pochettino in recent years, and would signal that the young group of players is starting to fulfil their immense potential as a squad.
Would exiting the competition be a disaster? Not in itself. But paired with the possibility of finishing outside of the Champions League places, it would be a very dangerous game for Pochettino to rotate heavily against Millwall, who have already dumped out Premier League sides on their way to the quarter finals, in the shape of reigning champions Leicester City.
Finishing 5th or 6th and an FA Cup quarter final would certainly be no achievement worthy of White Hart Lane’s last season, though 5th place and victory in the Cup would certainly be tolerable, to say the least.
Of course, the dream scenario is that Spurs are able to fend off competitors for places in Europe’s elite competition, finish the league season in the top four and go on to win the FA Cup at Wembley – but with the immense pressures on the current first eleven, combined with an obvious lack of squad depth in vital positions, this may be a stretch too far.
The likes of Vincent Janssen and Heung Min-Son are no replacements for Harry Kane, for example, and if Spurs’ star striker needs to be rested, then it should be a Premier League game that he misses.
Gambling on the second-string to get over the line in the FA Cup simply isn’t good enough for Tottenham right now; the current crop of players – as well as their manager – require a trophy before they are to be considered amongst the domestic elite. After all, the game is about glory – and without trophies, Spurs have none.
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