Tottenham Thrash Fiorentina in Brutal Demonstration of Progress

Sam RookeFeatured ColumnistFebruary 26, 2016

Tottenham’s Erik Lamela, left, celebrates with his teammate Kieran Trippier after scoring during the Europa League round of 32 second leg soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Fiorentina at White Hart Lane stadium, in London, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016.  (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Matt Dunham/Associated Press

Tottenham have taken immense strides this season, and their 3-0 Europa League second-leg hammering of Fiorentina is emblematic of that progress. 

Last season, a meeting with the same opposition saw Spurs bow out meekly after a particularly inept second leg in Florence. 

That match was notable only really for the final footnote of Roberto Soldado's Tottenham career. The Spaniard contrived to squander a two-on-none chance, and Spurs were out. 

A year later, with many of the same players on both sides, Tottenham were the vastly superior team.

In the first leg, Spurs blew Fiorentina away in the opening hour but were unable to transfer that dominance to the scoreboard. The match finished 1-1 and could easily have ended in defeat for the visitors. 

Paulo Sousa sacrificed Fiorentina's usual considered build-up play by packing the midfield with bodies and sacrificing width. 

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 25 :  Nacer Chadli of Tottenham Hotspur during the UEFA Europa League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Fiorentina at White Hart Lane on February 25, 2016 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Image
Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

Mauricio Pochettino, apparently anticipating this tactic, stationed Erik Lamela wide on the left flank, allowing him to flit between stretching the defence and helping out in the middle. This tactic helped Spurs achieve control of the pace and direction of the play, with Lamela's vicious tackling and pressing proving vital. 

Dele Alli provided the extra flair in a similar dual role. He broke forward vigorously and dropped in to help create vital numerical superiority in the middle of the pitch. 

Of all Serie A clubs, only Roma can match Fiorentina's 58 percent possession average. That Spurs were able to dictate the ball speaks to their quality.  

Sousa enthused to that end to assembled journalists after the match, “I believe that Spurs are in the top five in Europe at the moment, in terms of the intensity and quality of their play.”

The first-leg stalemate and FA Cup exit at the hands of Crystal Palace meant Spurs were on the verge of their worst run of results since October. 

Pochettino's team are making a happy habit of avoiding such runs and have followed each of their last five defeats with resounding victories. 

They play with a verve and confidence that reflects that excellent trend. There were a handful of excellent individuals in this match, but it was truly a team victory. The aggression, the pressing and the quick-thinking that have become synonymous with this team were on full display.

There had been rumblings before this match that Pochettino should consider sacrificing the Europa League campaign in favour of Spurs' Premier League title tilt. 

In reference to that conundrum, Pochettino admitted that "both competitions are important," asking "why prioritise one of them?"

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 25 :  Dele Alli of Tottenham Hotspur bounces the ball during the UEFA Europa League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Fiorentina at White Hart Lane on February 25, 2016 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Catherine Ivill - A
Catherine Ivill - AMA/Getty Images

Questions remain about the strength of Spurs' squad, but those are losing their relevance as the victories pile up. 

Mousa Dembele is hugely important to how Tottenham use the ball. His strength and evasiveness allow him to escape difficult situations and retain possession, releasing pressure on his teammates. 

Harry Kane is, of course, utterly vital to both their attack and defence. He leads the line with strength and fearless aggression while spearheading the pressing game as the front line of defence. 

Spurs blew away Italy's third-best team without both Dembele and Kane. They have now navigated four games in 11 days. 

The FA Cup exit means they did not escape unscathed, but their league and European campaigns remain highly promising. 

The legs of the next round precede a trip to face Aston Villa and a home match against Bournemouth. It's a pair of winnable Premier League matches that mean Spurs can reasonably hope to continue to fight on two fronts. 

For now, attention turns exclusively to domestic matters. 

Swansea City arrive at White Hart Lane on Sunday before Spurs make the short journey to face West Ham before the seismic north London derby against Arsenal on March 6. Should Tottenham win the first two, as they can fairly aspire to do, the meeting with their eternal rivals will reach a level of importance unseen since perhaps the 1991 FA Cup semi-final. 

This season is virtually guaranteed to be historic. 

It could be the year that Tottenham finally shrug off the tag of softness that has dogged them for decades or become the best example yet of that very softness. 

A year ago, Spurs wilted under the pressure. Mental fatigue, as much as physical exhaustion, saw them fall out of both the League Cup and Europa League in consecutive matches before slumping in the league. 

This time around, Pochettino was able to arrest a February slide after just one defeat. 

What a difference a year makes.