Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino faces a selection dilemma tonight as Borussia Dortmund visit White Hart Lane for the second leg of their Europa League last-16 tie.
The Bundesliga giants lead 3-0 from last week’s reverse fixture in Germany, where Pochettino rotated heavily and was criticised by some Spurs fans for leaving out key players, as talkSPORT reports.
Given their sizeable deficit, should Pochettino continue to prioritise the Premier League title race, or should he go all out to try to pull off a miracle comeback? Here, CaughtOffside explores…
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It would appear to make little sense for Pochettino to restore his star names for the second leg of a tie – against the tournament favourites – which is probably out of reach because of his first-leg selection.
But that is assuming that the Argentine’s reasoning for last Thursday’s weakened team was to throw away the Europa League and its demanding schedule, and leave them a free run at Leicester City.
Pochettino may have actually believed that the side that he fielded was good enough to get a result, even if that were to be a 2-1 defeat with an away goal, which would give them a chance in North London.
It did not turn out that way. That is not to say that it couldn’t have, but, on the night, Dortmund were irresistible and some of Tottenham’s fringe players simply found themselves outclassed.
I am sure – speaking as one – that Spurs fans feel that a lineup including the likes of Harry Kane, Eric Dier, Erik Lamela and Dele Alli, who was banned anyway, would have given Dortmund a real game.
And neutrals too may have been disappointed that they were denied the opportunity to see arguably two of the best and most exciting teams in Europe this season go head-to-head at full throttle.
They could get that chance at White Hart Lane this evening, if Pochettino unleashes his big guns, but that would be unwise. All of Tottenham’s main artillery should now be saved for their title chase.
Niggles to Christian Eriksen and Mousa Dembele, as Sky Sports reports, should decide Pochettino’s approach. Tottenham would need to be at full strength to have any chance of turning Dortmund over.
An injury to Eriksen or Dembele, or one of a number of other players such as Kane, Alli and Dier, who should all be rested, could derail their title dreams. The risks outweigh the likelihood of the reward.
One Dortmund goal and Spurs need five to go through. Realistically, all that the hosts can hope for is to restore some pride. Pride comes before a fall, and Tottenham won’t want to fall away in the league.
Five points is a gap that can be bridged to Leicester, but Spurs cannot afford many slip ups in their final eight games, and this Sunday’s visit of in-form Bournemouth is a match that they must win.
Only Leicester and Tottenham have accumulated more points than the Cherries since December 5, and Eddie Howe’s men will be confident that they can expose any fatigue that exists within the Spurs ranks.
The sensible move, although it might not be universally popular, would be to name a very similar lineup to last week’s, with Nabil Bentaleb replacing Christian Eriksen to provide midfield reinforcements.
Hugo Lloris will start in goal regardless, with Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies coming in at full-back. There is a case for resting Toby Alderweireld, to whom an injury would be as damaging as one to Kane, but it would be unfair to throw youngster Cameron Carter-Vickers in for a debut against this opposition.
Tom Carroll should play alongside Bentaleb in the centre of the park, with Mason slightly further forward, flanked by Son Heung-Min and Josh Onomah. Nacer Chadli should be de facto number nine.
It is not exciting. It is not heroic. But it is the right thing to do to preserve Tottenham’s best chance of winning the league title in 30 years. Spurs fans won’t be complaining if they are champions come May.
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