Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino cannot have failed to notice the furore that greeted Manchester City’s rotation policy as the Argentinian ponders team selection for Thursday's match against Fiorentina.
City boss Manuel Pellegrini has been pilloried this week after his experiment of fielding six teenagers in a much-changed line-up for Sunday’s FA Cup tie at Chelsea resulted in a 5-1 defeat.
Pochettino must now decide how to allocate his playing resources as he weighs up the importance of progress in the Europa League with maximising Spurs’ chances in a four-horse Premier League title race.
Momentum was the priority during my playing career. We always fielded the best team available and we definitely benefited. That wasn’t just at Everton, Rangers or Marseille; every club’s mentality was the same.
But the psychology has changed. It’s a squad game now and players don’t expect to play every match. Many are happy to get some kind of run in the side and only the best know they’re sure to play the biggest fixtures.
It’s clear what City’s most important targets are. They want to win the title – and because it’s so open this year believe they still can – while the Champions League is their holy grail.
If everyone at City understands that and believes in it, then there’s no reason for FA Cup elimination, even losing by such a big margin, need be a major setback. It could even work to their advantage, if important players get much-needed rest and other avoid picking up yellow cards.
The FA Cup in particular has become something of a pothole for clubs. Imagine if City striker Sergio Aguero had played at Chelsea and turned his ankle. It’s regrettable but the competition is now an opportunity for some teams to rest players.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger similarly made wholesale changes for their 0-0 FA Cup draw with Hull on Saturday. Chelsea and Manchester United, who beat Shrewsbury 3-0 on Monday, played strong teams because their title hopes are effectively over and the cup has taken on greater importance.
For Tottenham, I doubt that the Europa League is the priority. Yes, it now comes with the carrot of a Champions League place for the winners, but Spurs look sure to qualify anyway with a top-four place.
Pochettino might even wonder whether it would be an advantage to go out of Europe now and minimise their workload, especially if Premier League rivals City and Arsenal prolong their continental campaigns.
A rare top-flight title challenge has to be the former Southampton manager’s main concern. If they carry on in the Europa League then fine, but it cannot be at the expense of Premier League results.
Winning the league or going far in the Champions League can have a transformative effect on clubs. Besides glory, it elevates their brand and makes them a more attractive destination for top players.
We shouldn’t rush to criticise managers for resting their stars, as Pellegrini did at Chelsea. It’s an unavoidable consequence of prioritising the right competitions for their team.
What’s more, because this year’s title race is so unusually open clubs have to be very clear about their targets. Players will buy into that and even top ones know their workloads need to be managed.
This phenomenon isn’t going away. In fact, with increased television money making the lesser English teams more competitive and therefore Premier League points harder to come by, it will likely only increase.