Tottenham Hotspur Demonstrate Vital Depth in Europa League Triumph

Sam Rooke@@SamRooke89Featured ColumnistAugust 29, 2014

Tottenham's 5-1 aggregate win over AEL Limassol in the Europa League qualifying playoffs was no more than what was expected, but it may have revealed something truly surprising: Spurs have genuine strength in depth.

Across both legs of the tie, Spurs gave starting roles to 10 different players who did not start the 4-0 win over QPR last Sunday.

Goals from Harry Kane, Andros Townsend and Paulinho at White Hart Lane padded out the scoreline after a solid 2-1 win in Cyprus.

Brazilian international midfielder Sandro made his first appearance of the season in the second leg while his compatriot Paulinho made an impressive performance and scored his first goal of the year.

Both were regular starters last season but have so far been relegated to the Europa League.

In recent seasons, Spurs have rarely been out of contention for the top four. Indeed, since reaching the Champions League in the 2009-10 season, they have never finished more than last season's 10 points away from qualifying. That may seem a significant margin, but remember that Spurs lost twice against West Ham, at home to Newcastle and against Norwich at Carrow Road last season.

A 10-point swing is far from impossible.

Those lamentable defeats aside, Spurs were also beaten home and away by each of the top four teams, apart from Chelsea with whom they managed a single draw.

There is huge room for improvement this season under Mauricio Pochettino.

Under Harry Redknapp, Spurs regularly started strong but fell away late in the season. As fixtures built up, the squad showed obvious fatigue, and results faltered. In Andre Villas-Boas' only full season, they began slowly before Gareth Bale hit phenomenal form and lifted their winning rate.

Even Tim Sherwood, in charge for the second half of the season, made a decided shift in approach and playing staff. It revitalised the team and saw a corresponding improvement in results but wasn't enough to make up ground on the leading teams.

But that was last season, when returning to the top became more complicated. The emergence of Everton and the return of Liverpool to elite status mean that even standing still would be an achievement for Spurs.

Manchester City and Chelsea cannot be caught. The injury to Olivier Giroud may see Arsenal stumble, but they are probably talented enough to still finish in third place.

To return to the European Cup, Spurs must find an advantage over the likes of the two Liverpool clubs and the rebuilding Manchester United.

Liverpool's squad is comparable in quality to Spurs' but faces greater challenges this season. Having qualified for the Champions League, they must compete against Europe's finest teams. As Spurs found out in 2010, this will have a detrimental effect on their league campaign.

Liverpool have also lost the two key advantages that propelled them into an unlikely title challenge last season. Luis Suarez is gone, and they lack the element of surprise.

Having demonstrated their strength and style last season, every team in the Premier League recognises their approach and will prepare specifically to frustrate them. These factors bring their squad back to the level of the chasing pack.

Spurs can confirm their place as a contender when they meet the Reds at White Hart Lane on Sunday.

Everton too have a handful of impressive players. For example, Romelu Lukaku can be an excellent striker, but the Toffees lack alternatives. If Lukaku is absent through injury or suspension, or if his form falters, they will be forced to rely on inferior substitutes.

Key midfielder Ross Barkley's injury has already threatened to derail them, and they have yet to begin their European campaign. Do not mistake their shortcoming for a weak team. As they proved against Arsenal, they will threaten to win every game, but, as they also proved, they will ultimately fall short.

Manchester United have arguably the weakest squad but the strongest individual players. Much like Everton, United will blow some teams away. Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney, Juan Mata and Ander Herrera are all good enough to beat teams on their own, but Louis van Gaal's team will be undone by its fundamental flaws.

When Spurs blew QPR away, it was Nacer Chadli who scored two goals and helped create a third. The Belgian may not start regularly in the Premier League, but he helped deliver a win that kept Spurs' momentum growing.

Danny Rose was deemed such a weakness last season that a left-back was Spurs' first target in the transfer window. His form has improved to the point where he has been called up for England while his supposed replacement, Ben Davies, has yet to feature in the Premier League. Even if Davies does eventually take the starting role, Rose has demonstrated that he is now an asset to Spurs and can help win games, rather than risk losing them.

The emergence of Harry Kane, who scored a fine goal against Limassol, means that Pochettino now has three strikers he can reliably call upon. Each represents a different kind of forward. The Argentine can select the ideal man for each opponent.

When Spurs won the Double in 1960-61, they used only 17 players. Of those, only 12 played more than 10 games. The Premier League of 2014-15 is a different world. It is an attritional squad-based proposition and demands strength in depth.

Rafa Benitez was ridiculed at Liverpool for his rotation policy, but he kept a team that lacked the quality of its rivals competitive by making the right replacements.

If Spurs lose a game, Pochettino can make the necessary adjustments safe in the knowledge that the players he brings into the lineup will not lower the overall strength of the team.

It is that quality that Spurs possess in greater volume than any of their rivals. It is there that they can find their advantage.


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