A week that began with such possibility has ended in the knowledge that Tottenham’s wait for silverware will go on for another year. It feels cruel on Mauricio Pochettino and his players after a winter in which they appeared to have made such progress, but the challenge now facing the Spurs boss is to galvanise his players to fight for the top-four finish that remains within reach.
Past evidence suggests that the after-effects of cup final exertions can be significant. Sunderland failed to win any of their next eight after losing this game last season, while Swansea managed only one win in eight after winning it the year before. Liverpool lost nine of the next 16 in 2012 and Birmingham even contrived to get themselves relegated the year before.
Clearly Pochettino faces a tough time raising the players who lost Sunday’s cup final to Chelsea just three days after their Europa League adventure was ended by the same 2-0 scoreline against Fiorentina in midweek. It’s a mental strain on men who have already been showing signs of flagging physically in recent weeks. Typically, Pochettino is predicting the right reaction.
“We need to learn, but I think we’ll improve a lot from this final and I think this group has a brilliant future,” he told reporters. “For us, we can take a lot of positive things out of this match. The average age for my players was 23 and a half and for many players it was their first time at Wembley. It’s true that we will play a lot of finals in the next few years. I think we have a big future.”
Pochettino seemed bemused to discover this was Harry Kane’s first game at Wembley when chatting to his striker beforehand and was keen to stress the inexperience of his side. “We are young,” he told Sky Sports. “They have players who have played in 12, 13 or 14 finals. For a lot of (our) players it was their first final, so we are proud. I am disappointed for our supporters, but we made a big effort.”
The Argentine was also frustrated enough by the focus on Jose Mourinho in his own press conference to joke with the assembled media that in future he’d like to speak before the Chelsea boss to avoid every question beginning with the words ‘Jose said’. But in truth the support of his Portuguese counterpart offers the sort of perspective Spurs fans would be wise to retain.
“Tottenham and Mauricio are fantastic,” Mourinho told Sky Sports. “He is building a great team, they gave us a very difficult match and I feel sorry for them. He is doing a fantastic work and having a great evolution in his career. I feel sorry for him but I know he is a proud man with the work he is doing and the team he got to the final.”
In the subsequent press conference, he was equally effusive in his praise – even predicting trophy success for Pochettino’s Tottenham in the future. “The natural tendency of this team is to win trophies,” added Mourinho. “I don’t know when or which ones but they have to win.”
Pochettino doesn’t know either but the hope must be that Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy appreciates that his current coach is the man to deliver. Of course, there can be no guarantees. Andre Villas-Boas, for example, was sacked in December of last season with the club eight points behind the Premier League leaders and still in the hat in no fewer than three cup competitions.
A key difference was the manner in which the team caved in during defeats to Manchester City and Liverpool – a characteristic wildly at odds with this Spurs side. Indeed, with their Wembley task looking hopeless during the final moments on Sunday it was noticeable that players were still running to take a short corner while some supporters were already making their way to the exits.
After Villas-Boas there was Tim Sherwood, a man who can continue to boast of possessing a better win percentage in charge of the team than his successor – claiming as many Premier League victories in 22 attempts as Pochettino has so far managed in his 26 games at the helm.
But his points were picked up thanks to rehabilitating Emmanuel Adebayor, with the mercurial striker netting 14 times under Sherwood in the second half of last season. It was a sticking plaster; a quick fix in comparison to the enticing new vision that Pochettino has provided. Kane was introduced but his exponential development has come under the Argentine.
It’s not just Kane who has shone. Nabil Bentaleb and Ryan Mason have formed an effective partnership that is sufficiently impressive to cause Mourinho to rejig his shape. By the Chelsea manager’s own admission, Cesc Fabregas and Ramires would not have been able to cope with the Spurs midfielders without help – hence the inclusion of Kurt Zouma in the centre.
There is pace and enthusiasm in the wide positions and, perhaps most importantly, a belief among the players that the path they are on is the right one for them to reap success. ‘[I’m] truly gutted with the result but so proud to be part of this team and our performance,’ Mason told his Twitter followers after Sunday’s defeat. ‘We will learn and improve together.’
So there are plenty of reasons for optimism. Spurs supporters might just need a strong finish to keep those thoughts at the forefront of their minds. For Pochettino, the business of achieving that begins at White Hart Lane on Wednesday. “Our challenge is the next game,” he said. “We can’t speak about the top four until the end of the season. We will try to get three points against Swansea.
“We need to forget about the final and move forward. We need to recover our legs and our minds because it’s tough. But it’s more positive than negative.” That’s what Tottenham supporters – and Mr Levy – ought to remember in the wake of such a disappointing week.