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Mauricio Pochettino leaves Toby Alderweireld out of Tottenham squad to face Juventus

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The official reason is to improve his fitness. The implication is something different.

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Tottenham Hotspur v Newport County - Fly Emirates FA Cup Round Four Replay Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur have taken seven points out of their past nine in the Premier League, with home wins over Manchester United and Arsenal, and a hard-earned point at Liverpool. They head into Tuesday’s Champions League knock-out match against Juventus in Turin with a full head of steam and a fully healthy squad.

So naturally, it’s time for an article to make Spurs supporters nervous!

The Telegraph’s Matt Law wrote today that Belgian center back Toby Alderweireld has been left out of Mauricio Pochettino’s traveling Champions League squad and will not feature next week against Juventus. According to Law, Alderweireld is being left behind to work on his fitness.

Here’s the kicker: Law uses this fact as a pivot to talk again about Alderweireld’s contract situation, which has been going on for many months now, and to raise fresh fears that Toby is upset and may be on his way out of North London.

EVERYONE PANIC!

Look: at first glance this appears to be an article that is mostly based on conjecture and implication. Toby is only just back from a long term hamstring injury — sustained, by the way, in a Champions League match against Real Madrid. He only played his first match back this past midweek in the FA Cup replay win over Newport County. And while Toby sure looked solid enough, it was against League 2 competition, and Toby notably didn’t attempt any of his long diagonal balls out of deep.

There isn’t anyone who doesn’t think that a healthy and fit Toby Alderweireld is a lock for Spurs first team. It also doesn’t seem too shocking to think that Pochettino might want to ease him back into the squad and not throw him into the fire in an absolutely massive Champions League match. In this context, using his omission as a wedge to focus attention on past “controversies” in the media is, well, kinda crappy.

On the other hand, Pochettino got awfully testy when asked in a post NLD press conference about why Sanchez played against Arsenal over Toby.

Can I ask you why you picked Toby Alderweireld over Davinson Sanchez?

Sorry? After the game I need to explain this? You think I need to explain why I picked one or another? Why? Sorry, I don’t understand your question. Why I pick 11 players? Because I need to pick 11 players. I don’t understand your question.

Where you worried that Toby couldn’t play three games in quick succession?

I picked a player that I believe are the best to play in every game, but, if I explain why I don’t play Alderweireld, I need to explain why for Danny Rose, Wanyama, Llorente, Michel Vorm, Harry Winks - I don’t understand your question.

We value your insight, you’re the expert, you just picked a team that beat Arsenal…

And it is not enough to see the starting XI?

We’re just interested in your reasoning?

The reason is that I believe the 11 players that played today were the best to win, we won, if we lose maybe I accept the question, because I was wrong in my selection. But after three points, I think the question…

Was he fully fit for selection? It’s not a critical question

No, no I know. I don’t take like a criticism, it is your opinion. He played like different players against Newport, and the decision was be out of the squad.

But that is, sorry, the club, Daniel Levy pay for [me] to make decision, not to make happy the people.

Matt Law is correct that the specter of Toby’s contract still looms large over anything Toby does this season. And Law also could very well be right. If Alderweireld’s contract negotiations were easy, they would’ve been done by now. Besides, we’ve seen this kind of thing before: last spring, Kyle Walker was held out of important matches by Pochettino despite professing that he was fit. Walker, as we know, was eventually sold to Manchester City. It’s certainly possible that keeping Toby in England this week is a portent of things to come.

I’m not willing to go that far. Yet. Despite Toby saying that he’s healthy, it’s possible that there’s a method here and that Pochettino really does think he needs more fitness work before he’s ready to play in the biggest of Tottenham games. If that’s the case, that’s fair. We might not agree, but we also don’t see Toby in training.

But darned if this doesn’t make me a little nervous. Davinson Sanchez is a fine center back, but I know I’d much rather have a healthy and fit Janby Alderweirtonghen against the best clubs in England and Europe. Hopefully Toby is worked back into the rotation, signs a new contract, and we can all stop angsting about this whole thing.