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The Mystery of Paulinho Endures as Spurs Take Solid Point in Belgrade

Despite his goal in the last round against Limassol, Paulinho continues to underwhelm in a Spurs shirt...

Despite his goal in the last round against Limassol, Paulinho continues to underwhelm in a Spurs shirt. Illustration by Richard Swarbrick.

A point and a clean sheet in Belgrade against reasonable opposition in a hostile stadium constitutes a solid start to the Europa League group stage for Tottenham. Whereas in the previous game against Sunderland the front six where very good and the back four so-so, in this one the back six were generally pretty good and the front four - all changed from the weekend - weren't. Though they worked hard enough, Paulinho in the number 10 role, Kane at centre forward and Townsend and Lennon on the wings carried no real threat. By the time Soldado and Lamela came on with half an hour to go, the 0-0 already seemed to be a done deal.

The mystery of Paulinho endures. A first choice for Brazil over the past couple of years he often looked more like a Scotland fringe player when playing for Spurs last season. We all assumed the real Paulinho - the 17 million pound box-to-box powerhouse with the silky, Samba-skills - would be on display at the World Cup, but his performances for Brazil were every bit as insipid as they had been in the Premier League and now he can't even get on the Spurs bench for the big games. Either he wasn't any good in the first place and owes his Brazil caps to some kind of teacher's pet status under Phil Scolari (Paulinho isn't being selected now that Big Phil's got the chop), or his problem is psychological. He came to Europe earlier in his career and struggled to adapt during an ill-fated spell in Poland. Maybe it's happening again. Whatever the explanation, and however much the fans wish otherwise, it's looking like he'll never justify his fee and if a reasonable bid materialises in January, Levy will surely move him on before the decline in his value reaches David Bentley proportions.

Lloris and Vertonghen aside, all the Spurs starters in Belgrade have players ahead of them in the Premier League side. Fazio played pretty well on his debut, but, given Kaboul's elevation to the captaincy, probably not well enough to get picked for the West Bromwich Albion game on Sunday. Davies also put on a good show but doesn't look likely to depose Danny Rose at left back and Naughton remains way behind Dier (and the currently crocked Walker) in the queue for the right back berth.

Bentaleb and Stambouli were excellent and will exert real pressure on Capoue - who came on for the last twenty minutes - and Dembele for the central midfield places, but probably not by the weekend. West Bromwich Albion look close to being the weakest side in the top flight and whatever team Pochettino sends out - probably the same as the one that played at Sunderland but with Vertonghen instead of Chiriches - it will be expected to win easily.

Because the Europa League Trophy now comes with a guaranteed Champions League place it is doubly worth winning and the manager will hope that the second string continue to be sufficiently motivated by the prospect of promotion to the Premier League side to propel Spurs into the latter stages. At the moment they are the bookies' favourites but it's a rather misleading status because a bunch of big teams that finish third in the Champions League groups will join the competition in the new year. Nevertheless, a squad that's as big and high quality as Tottenham's must have a pretty good chance of making the final. By that time Paulinho may be gone and given that it's to be staged in Warsaw, he may be glad of that.

Theo Delaney is a guest on this week's Spurs Show podcast.