How Mauricio Pochettino's Champions League success was spurred by Premier League rivals
Background image: Hzh, CC BY-SA 4.0
Like Ajax in the Netherlands, Tottenham has surprised most people by reaching the Champions League semi-final. But even though Spurs are not fighting for the title like their next opponent in the Champions League is doing, the domestic campaign has also been a remarkable success. That's thanks to help coming from the unlikeliest of sources; some of their top-six rivals. From Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal.
Manchester United received a comprehensive beating from Everton on Sunday to continue a poor run of form for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men. That has led to questions from several quarters concerning Solskjaer's suitability for the job. But the Norwegian oversaw a tremendous performance from the team prior to his confirmation as permanent manager. 10 wins and a draw in all competitions after taking over lifted the club back into the reckoning for a top-four place.
Comfortable victories over Arsenal and Chelsea in the FA Cup meant he could also compete against the big guns. And then, when he overturned a 2-0 first leg defeat to beat Paris Saint-Germain 3-1 and qualify for the quarter-final of the Champions League, that sealed the deal. The job was his. And since then? Well, it has been a different story. Manchester United has lost seven of the last nine matches in all competitions. That has brought back memories of the poor performance under Jose Mourinho. At a time when the club needs all the points it can get to lock down a top-four place, the team has stumbled in two of its last three games, losing to Wolves and Everton.
It's been the same story for the other top-four contenders. Chelsea and Arsenal are having problems of their own and it has been like that all season. The post-Arsene Wenger era has not been a smooth sail. Like Maurizio Sarri for Chelsea, Unai Emery is doing well in Europe leading the team to the Europa League semi-final. But domestic success has been difficult to come by. After finally securing a win and keeping a clean sheet in an away match, Arsenal slumped again to another costly league defeat, a second in the last three games. That has left the team still unsure of a top-four finish at the end of the campaign.
The Blues have not fared any better still. After losing two out of the previous five in the league, a gruelling 2-2 draw against Burnley at the Stamford Bridge on Monday meant there is still a long way to go for Sarri and his team. However, one team has benefitted from all of these inconsistencies from all of Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal; Tottenham.
No doubt, the Lillywhites have done a good job this season. Liverpool and Manchester City are in a world of their own. But Spurs have also stood up to be counted, at least among the rest. And that is one of the reasons the team sits third on the Premier League table. More importantly, next season's Champions League football is all but secured. That leaves the other trio fighting for the sole remaining spot.
The main reason for Tottenham's good fortune is the fact that the competition has simply failed to live up to expectations. with less competition, Man City ran away with the league title last term and won it with a record 100 points. But Liverpool is giving Pep Guardiola and his Sky Blues a run for their money. United, Chelsea and Arsenal were not ready for the fight from the very beginning.
Unfortunately, whether through a league table finish or by winning the Europa League, only one of them can play in Europe's elite competition next season. what a shame that some of the best clubs in the world continue to be sidelined in Europe of their own making.