Tottenham Hotspur are undergoing a bit of a transition phase in which they blend young talent into the squad, and as a result, go through some rocky patches. The cups and Europa League appear to be where Mauricio Pochettino is going to play a B-squad, which now seemingly includes Nabil Bentaleb, Harry Kane, Ryan Mason and Andros Townsend.
All four of those players got a chance to play on Wednesday against Nottingham Forest and experienced relative degrees of success. Bentaleb was solid, but unspectacular, while Townsend actively hurt the team with his poor decisions. Mason and Kane came on as substitutes and both contributed goals as part of very good performances.
This is characteristic of what we've come to expect from these players. Not that anyone thought Ryan Mason was going to score a 30-yard bomb, but the way in which he scored it reflected a reasonable decision, consistent with what we've seen from him in preseason. In a situation where no one was closing him down and minimal decent passing options were present, Mason decided to have a rare long-distance shot and made the most of it.
Similar things can be said about Harry Kane, who strikes the right balance between youthful fearlessness and occasional discretion. His decision-making is excellent for his age, but he creates things with flicks and tricks and surprise shots that lots of players are too scared to try. Occasionally, he kills an attack by getting too ambitious, but it's less often than he creates something great through being willing to think outside the box.
Townsend, meanwhile, spent the entire game shooting indiscriminately and making very little positive contribution to the attack. He's not worthy of being a scapegoat for the team's awful performance in the first 60 minutes -- the entire front four was dreadful -- but he took off-target, long-range shots when he had good passing options or space to run forward into on multiple occasions.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, there's Nabil Bentaleb, who seems to have been beaten into thinking that trying ambitious things is very, very wrong. This clearly isn't something Tim Sherwood has ever coached into a player, but it probably is something that has carried over from his reign. Bentaleb caught (ridiculous) abuse from fans, Sherwood benched him to protect him from that, and since then he's been much less willing to be creative. The Bentaleb we see now is less a maturing player learning to make good decisions and more a still young player afraid of making bad ones.
The key here, and ultimately the lasting legacy of the reign of Pochettino and his staff, will be what these players -- along with the club's other young talent -- turn into over time. For a couple of reasons, Spurs need these players to become key contributors, and for at least one of them to turn into a real star. Tottenham don't have the financial resources and global draw to buy a bunch of Christian Eriksens, and a large number of fans want to see players that came through our youth academy succeed just as much as they want the team to play in Champions League. Some fans would even prefer an entertaining, mid-table team filled with academy products to a Champions League side with none.
Mason and Kane look to be on the right development track, but will need to continue improving without skewing too far towards the way Townsend or Bentaleb plays now. At the same time, those players need to work out their kinks and start looking a bit more like Mason and Kane. A lot of that is down to coaching.
It's way too early in Pochettino's reign to even fathom a guess at what effect him and his staff are having on these players, but they're at least getting a chance to play, which is probably connected to good performances and effort in training.
Spurs have a seemingly special group of kids. Let's hope Poche knows how to turn them into real pros.