Was Tottenham’s Champions League jaunt meaningless?

Tottenham were at home, 3-2 up on aggregate, with two away goals when the half-time whistle went in the second leg on Wednesday evening. Wembley was rocking.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side were only 45 minutes away from the quarter-final of the Champions League and seeing off the Serie A dominating Juventus.

A now customary strong start to the calendar year has seen Spurs consolidate themselves as favourites for the top four. Pochettino guided his team to the top of a group containing Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, as well as reaching the last eight of the FA Cup.

The failure to hold onto their advantage under the arch stung. Spurs were the stronger team over the two legs and could have finished off Max Allegri’s side even before half-time. Conceding two goals so quickly often leads to criticism, but the hosts were simply undone by a frenzied Juventus.

Of course, Spurs were not faultless in their Champions League demise. Neither were they responsible. The comeback was resurgence, rather than collapse.

Few competition exits are positive. This one, though, was progress.

Spurs could not escape their group last season. This term they beat the holders Real Madrid in the process to topping their group, and sent Borussia Dortmund to the Europa League. Last 16 departures are often suggested to undermine everything that went before, but that does a disservice to what Tottenham achieved.

Each season has been a step forwards since Pochettino took over. Although this campaign did not see a run into the last eight, Spurs showed they are every bit capable of living with the best teams in the world. That is no mean feat.

Achievements can always be qualified into irrelevance. Sure, Real Madrid were at a low ebb when Tottenham beat them.

And, yeah, Juventus deserved a first half penalty, but this Champions League journey was not enabled by good fortune or freaky moments. This was the Tottenham we have seen on an increasingly consistent basis domestically coming of age on the biggest stage.

Perhaps more than anything, it was a reminder of how good Tottenham are.

The lack of a shiny pot for the cabinet will draw criticism whatever they do elsewhere, unfortunately, but Spurs are now a consistent force in England. Translating that to Europe is an altogether different task – as many teams have discovered – yet Spurs did not suffer that this season.

The performances on a Wednesday were every bit as impressive as we are now accustomed to on a Saturday.

So what are the conclusions of their European adventure season?

Frustrating, yes. Meaningless, no. The rumours of star players and Pochettino departing will continue to circle, but those Champions League results can be presented as evidence as Tottenham try and retain and recruit this summer.

Players will begin to look elsewhere if they think Spurs have reached their ceiling. This, albeit disappointingly brief, jaunt around Europe was another important checkpoint along the Pochettino project.

 

Written by Sam Cox

Follow Sam on Twitter @SamRCox_

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