Are Tottenham Hotspur paying for overachieving under Mauricio Pochettino over the last couple of years?
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Many felt Saturday was a big moment in Spurs’ quest to win silverware again, but perhaps the pressure on them is because they have overachieved
When Mauricio Pochettino was appointed Tottenham Hotspur boss on May 28 2014, he was the ninth permanent manager to work under Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, after Levy took over from Alan Sugar in February 2001.
At the time of Pochettino’s appointment, the Lilywhites had just finished sixth in the Premier League with Tim Sherwood at the helm after the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas in December 2013.
It was the ninth time Spurs had finished inside the top-half out of the last 10 seasons, but represented their lowest placing since they came eighth in the 2008/09 term.
Despite consistently being a top-half club from the mid 2000’s until May 2014, the highest Tottenham had ever finished in the Premier League before Pochettino arrived was fourth on two occasions under Harry Redknapp.
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So when Pochettino claimed fifth during his debut season at the club, it wasn’t seen as a bad campaign given it was his first.
The reason this is important is because since the arrival of the Argentinean, Spurs have continuously improved both on a domestic front and on the European stage.
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After finishing fifth in 2014/15, Tottenham went two better in 2015/16 and ended up third and also reached the last-16 of the Europa League.
Last season they took another step forward and were the second best club in the country behind Chelsea as they secured second spot – their highest finish for 54 years.
And this is where we arrive at this point and tackle the question are Spurs paying for overachieving under Pochettino?
This season they are currently fourth and on course to remain in the Champions League for a third consecutive season, but after challenging for the title in each of the last two campaigns, no tilt at the championship was forthcoming again in 2018.
Given Spurs left their White Hart Lane home in May and have spent the whole term at Wembley Stadium, expecting them to battle to be Premier League winners this season was never likely.
So Tottenham have done well to stay in the hunt for European qualification and have again shown signs of progress, but yet the same question remains. For all of the club’s progress, what trophies do they have to show for it?
The answer is none after Saturday’s damaging 2-1 defeat to Manchester United in the semi-finals of the FA Cup ended Spurs’ hopes of winning silverware this season
Pochettino was downbeat after the loss and raised the point of expectations at the north London club compared to the rest of the teams in the top-six - City, United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal.
He said: “The most difficult thing in football is to be realistic because no one wants to be realistic, but in some points you need to be realistic and our fans need to be realistic.
“If we believe in the process or in the way that we are working, it will be so easy to face teams like City or United and we’ll be capable of winning some of these games.
“But in most of the games we are going to struggle to compete, but that is the way we decide to go and to move.
“Tottenham is a completely different club to the others and we are in the process that in the last four years we arrive and the challenge was to try to be competitive.
“And then the challenge was to try to reduce the distance with the top four and in the last few years we were there, we were competitive, but still winning a trophy is not easy.”
It has been a long time since Spurs were regularly winning cup competitions and even longer since they were champions of England.
But the progress they have made under Pochettino has seen fans begin to dream again and they are dreaming for a reason.
What perhaps has unfortunately hampered this current squad is the timing of their improvement and how it has coincided with a tricky period in the club’s history.
Moving stadium was never going to be easy and in actual fact, in many ways Spurs may have benefitted from not challenging for the title in the past two seasons.
Had they just about snuck into the top-four then the expectation at Tottenham this year would not be on them to be in the hunt for the Premier League, but to retain their position as a Champions League club, which they look like they are going to do.
While Saturday’s loss and ultimately limp second half display against United was incredibly frustrating, it should not detract from what Spurs have done this season.
If they can win two of their last four games, it should be enough to secure European football at the elite stage for a third consecutive campaign.
With a new 62,000-seater stadium set to open next season, Tottenham will hope to be on a more level playing field with the likes of City, United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal soon.
Once the new White Hart Lane is in use, Spurs will see their revenue increase and that is when expectation levels will demand title challenges consistently and cup success.
So, yes Tottenham could have performed better on Saturday, but the defeat does not mean this campaign is a failure.
It was always going to be a tough season for Pochettino and Co and despite battling for the title in recent years, this term was always about staying in the top-four and that shouldn’t be forgotten in the wake of last weekend’s loss.