Pochettino's European Strategy Paying off for Tottenham's Title Chase, so Far

Sam RookeFeatured ColumnistMarch 21, 2016

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 20:  Marc Pugh of Bournemouth is challenged by Ryan Mason of Tottenham Hotspur during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and A.F.C. Bournemouth at White Hart Lane on March 20, 2016 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Tottenham's 3-0 win over Bournemouth keeps them on track to push Leicester City for the Premier League title. 

Harry Kane scored twice inside the opening 15 minutes, and Spurs coasted to a win that keeps them five points from the top of the table. 

With Leicester and Arsenal having won, all Tottenham could do was match their pace, but the clinical nature of the victory over Bournemouth was impressive. It was a result that, to some extent, vindicated Mauricio Pochettino's decision to sacrifice the Europa League tie against Dortmund by resting key players. 

While Pochettino's willingness to surrender a promising European adventure raised eyebrows, he judged it would increase his team's chances of overhauling Leicester. 

Spurs have beaten Aston Villa and Bournemouth in their post-European fixtures and looked utterly untroubled in doing so. In both, Pochettino has been able to withdraw key players without risking the vital points. 

Kane, arguably Spurs' most important individual player, has scored four goals from open play and reached 21 league goals for the season. He is now the leading goalscorer in the division, two clear of Leicester's Jamie Vardy.

He has also has hit the 20-goal-per-season milestone as many times in his first two full seasons as Wayne Rooney has managed in his career. 

As if the football world needed reminding, Kane is a special player.

If he, who played just 15 minutes across both legs against Dortmund, was the focus of Pochettino's strategy, it appears to have worked out nicely. Certainly, two rampant victories were the perfect response to the disappointing results in Europe and to Pochettino's critics. 

Having departed the European scene, Spurs are no longer forced to balance the squad across mid-week fixtures.

Few, if any, of Tottenham's players face significant exertions during the imminent international break.

That break may prove advantageous for Spurs as Jan Vertonghen and Clinton Njie are expected to return to full training before their next Premier League match on April 2 against Liverpool

That trip signals the beginning of the final sprint. 

In a significant advantage for Tottenham, they will have Eric Dier with them at Anfield. Dier's North London derby booking was his ninth of the season, and a yellow card against either Aston Villa or Bournemouth would have triggered an automatic suspension. 

The amnesty point kicks in before Spurs return to the pitch. 

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 20:  Mousa Dembele and Kevin Wimmer of Tottenham Hotspur celebrate victory after the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and A.F.C. Bournemouth at White Hart Lane on March 20, 2016 in London, United Kingdom.  (P
Clive Rose/Getty Images

Dier was banned for the reverse fixture, Jurgen Klopp's first in charge of Liverpool, after collecting five yellow cards in his first eight games. 

That he has only been booked four times in the following 21 matches speaks to his rapid growth as a defensive midfielder. Dier has been crucial to Tottenham's league-leading defence this season, but he has managed to thrive in the role of midfield enforcer without indulging in over-the-top conduct. 

Liverpool have scored 14 goals in their last four games, and so Dier's ability to play with total freedom is a tremendous advantage. 

Dier was one of the players to benefit from Pochettino's decision to rest his key players through the Dortmund tie. Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and Mousa Dembele also were rotated out of the side for the mid-week fixtures, and the true benefit of those decisions may not be immediate. 

With those players likely to feature in each of the remaining seven matches of the season, the effect of the time off against Dortmund may yet be felt. 

Spurs face a far more difficult opposition than either Leicester or Arsenal. 

None of the away trips against Liverpool, Chelsea, Stoke City and Newcastle can be taken for granted while home fixtures against Manchester United, West Brom and Southampton will also be challenging.  

If Tottenham are to outperform Leicester by the five points necessary to close the gap at the top, they'll need to win virtually all of those matches. 

It will take 17 points from an available 21 to crown the Foxes champions of England. Seventeen points is a tall order, but any slip by Spurs reduces that target accordingly.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 20:  Kyle Walker of Tottenham Hotspur controls the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and A.F.C. Bournemouth at White Hart Lane on March 20, 2016 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Clive Rose
Clive Rose/Getty Images

When Tottenham won six straight games through the waning weeks of winter, they did so by playing at a constant tempo that their opposition could not match. When they beat Watford 1-0 at White Hart Lane, Kieran Trippier's winning goal was the culmination of an insatiable performance. 

Beaten manager Quique Sanchez Flores described Spurs as playing with the energy of "animals" and backed them to win the league. 

When Tottenham play at that level, they are virtually unstoppable, and if they can repeat that feat seven more times, they stand a good chance of seizing the title. 

If they do that, the decision to abdicate their European position will be judged the right one.