The next six games, spanning exactly four weeks, will go a long, long way toward defining Tottenham Hotspur’s 2017-18 season as either a progressive success, or an untimely failure.
This Saturday, it’s Arsenal who’ll visit Wembley Stadium (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com), followed by the first leg of a Champions League round-of-16 tie with Juventus, followed by an FA Cup fifth-round trip to Rochdale, followed by a pair of banana-skin fixtures in the Premier League (Crystal Palace and Huddersfield Town), and finally the decisive second leg against Juventus.
For all of his side’s recent success, Mauricio Pochettino is yet to guide Tottenham to the club’s first piece of silverware since the 2008 League Cup. While they’re outsiders to triumph in Europe, a trip to the semifinals — or even the quarters — would more than suffice for Spurs fans. The FA Cup, on the other hand, is well within reach, should someone do everyone a favor and knock off Manchester City.
Following Wednesday’s fourth-round replay victory over Newport County, Pochettino reaffirmed his desire to continue to compete on every front available, — quotes from the BBC:
“It’s the FA Cup and it’s difficult. But I am happy because we wanted to be in the next round.”
“It is important to keep going and winning games. We are going to be very busy in the Premier League, Champions League and the FA Cup but we want to keep this run.”
In many ways, Spurs arrived a season (or two) ahead of schedule when they were the nearest challengers to Leicester City and Chelsea in the Premier League title race two years running. The idea, at least one might presume, was that Mauricio Pochettino’s side would continue to rise through the ranks before finally peaking in the first or second season inside the club’s new White Hart Lane stadium (set to open August 2018).
The highlight on Wednesday, however, was undoubtedly the return of star defender Toby Aldeweireld, who missed the last two months with a hamstring injury. To a lesser degree, Danny Rose and Harry Winks (both out since Boxing Day) also made their way back into the starting 11 following injuries of their own. Given it’s already a thin squad, the importance of having everyone available for selection isn’t lost on Pochettino — quotes from Sky Sports:
“It’s important for many players to have the possibility to play. It’s tough to find a place to play because the team is doing well. Today was a great opportunity for different players, like Toby, Danny and Harry Winks, to play games and compete at this level. It’s completely different to training.”
Successive third- and second-place finishes, coupled with the ease with which they breezed through this season’s Champions League group stage — brushing aside the likes of Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund — have left Spurs in something of a confusing no man’s land, where simply finishing fourth would represent a literal step back, even if not in terms of perception and expectation.
It’s a testament to the work that Pochettino’s done thus far, as well as a reminder of how far Spurs had, and still have, to go.