Win or bust in Monaco but Pochettino reluctant to take risks
Published 22/11/2016 | 02:30
In the sovereign city-state on the French Riviera that attracts the rich and famous to its casinos, the stakes could not be higher for Tottenham Hotspur as they attempt to stay in the Champions League.
For anything but victory against Monaco will almost certainly end in Spurs being eliminated from the competition and rejoining the Thursday night wannabes who look on enviously at Europe's high-rollers.
The recent return of Harry Kane has improved Tottenham's hand, with the striker scoring three goals in two games since recovering from an ankle injury, but Toby Alderweireld, Erik Lamela and Ben Davies are still out.
Monaco, who kicked off Group E with a victory over Mauricio Pochettino's team at Wembley, are unbeaten at home, second in Ligue 1 behind neighbours Nice and have won four of their past five matches, scoring 19 goals in the process.
Radamel Falcao, the former Manchester United and Chelsea flop who managed five goals in two Premier League seasons, has scored six times in five games for Monaco.
Pochettino is convinced Spurs can upset the odds and keep their hopes alive, but stressed he would not send his team out to take unnecessary risks and would not gamble on the fitness of his players.
"It's a game we must win and we must find the way how," said Pochettino.
"It doesn't mean take more or less risks. Try to be clever and follow the plan, try to win after 90 minutes - that's our challenge. It's all about balance in football. Not about taking risks or not taking risks."
Kane played for 96 minutes against West Ham last Saturday in only his second game back from injury, while Mousa Dembele lasted 72 minutes and Dele Alli was introduced as a 68th-minute substitute.
"Our selection will be if the players are fit or not, can play 90 minutes or not," said Pochettino.
"We must assess players like Kane, Dembele, Alli. Can they play 90 minutes without risk in the next games?
"If we believe there's some risk to play from the beginning, they can play from the bench and have an impact."
Monaco played last Friday night against Lorient and felt comfortable enough to rest Falcao.
Falcao did not start because he had been playing for Colombia during the international break. But half-way through the second half it was still 0-0, so Jardim threw him on; 40 seconds later Falcao had scored, with his first touch.
"We miss one day to try to recover our players," said Pochettino. "But we must accept the rules and try to forget that and prepare. It's true - one day less in this competition, always it's difficult."
Tottenham captain Hugo Lloris knows better than most the value of never giving up, having been part of one of the most improbable turnarounds in Champions League history.
Lloris was part of the Lyon team in 2011 that scored six goals in 30 second-half minutes to beat Dinamo Zagreb 7-1 and progress to the knockout stage.
Ajax, who were eliminated, called for UEFA to investigate the match but their protests were ignored.
"This shows you we are not out of the competition yet and in football anything is possible," said the goalkeeper, who was born in Nice and whose father works in a bank in Monaco. "We need to believe in ourselves and be ready for any eventuality.
"My experience with Lyon does give me hope, although it is difficult to compare as Zagreb had no chance of going through, whereas Monaco need just a point to progress.
"But in football anything is possible. There is a feeling in France that Monaco are in such a good position they have more to lose than us. We cannot be in a worse situation and they know it is in their hands.
"They will be under pressure to take the game to us and sometimes that responsibility can do funny things to a team."
In many ways, qualifying for the Champions League was Tottenham's consolation for failing to win the Premier League title last season.
The pain of the defeat at Chelsea that meant Leicester City were crowned champions is still fresh in the Spurs players' minds.
They are determined to avoid a second heartbreak in seven months.