Monday 16 September 2019

Tottenham ready to make Pep earn his Spurs

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino. Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino. Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images

Jason Burt

Tottenham Hotspur enter uncharted territory at the Etihad Stadium tonight.

They have been in the second leg of a Champions League quarter-final once before, but have never had a realistic chance of going further.

In 2011, in their first campaign in the competition, Harry Redknapp's side were dismissed 4-0 at Real Madrid, with Peter Crouch sent off early, rendering the return at White Hart Lane "a mountain to climb", according to the manager.

It inevitably proved too much with Madrid also winning that game 1-0 - the slender, but precious, scoreline that Spurs now take to Manchester City following last week's victory at their new stadium. That venue, and the atmosphere it created, felt like it made a difference.

After three restorative wins at home this is Spurs' first game on the road since finally moving with a record in their past six away matches, against English opposition in all competitions, that reads LLLLLL.

For all the talk of Spurs and their supporters having grown weary of Wembley, the fact is their home record, largely, stood up while their away form collapsed. Since losing to Manchester United in mid-January they gained seven wins and the draw against Arsenal at Wembley.


The shocking away record, though, is punctuated by the 1-0 win at Borussia Dortmund in the previous round of the Champions League. It is that from which Spurs can take belief.

The goal, of course, was scored by Harry Kane. The absence, through the ankle injury sustained against City by Spurs' talisman and main scorer, adds another imponderable to this tie and there has been renewed debate over how Son Heung-min is to take responsibility.

Son scored the only goal against City and will be a key player in what surely will be a counter-attacking approach.

Whether Mauricio Pochettino wants to play that way will be dictated by City's inevitable dominance of possession.

But Spurs look dangerous and it will be interesting to see whether they use the pace of Lucas Moura, a hat-trick scorer last Saturday, from the start or from the bench.

Pochettino laid out what he feels is the scale of the task when he said: "Man City is one of the best in the world and is a clear favourite to win the Premier League and the Champions League."

The Argentinian believes that Spurs must start to challenge for the Premier League and the Champions League on a regular basis now that their new stadium has been built to be in the same league as City and Europe's top clubs.

The construction of the 62,062-capacity ground has had an impact on that ambition - in January, Spurs became the first club in Premier League history to not sign a first-team player in two consecutive transfer windows.

Pochettino now hopes that such frugality is a thing of the past and he looks to the future.

"For me, after this season, a chapter is going to be closed and we are going to start another chapter," he said.

"With our new stadium, we need to be contenders to fight for the Premier League and Champions League, and find the tools to try to be there."

The loss of Harry Winks, with a hamstring injury, is a severe blow given the control he brought to the midfield.

Dele Alli is hopeful of being included despite fracturing a hand against City.

If Alli plays, Pochettino must decide how best to use him, given how effective the midfielder was at breaking forward against City and occupying Fernandinho.

Pochettino will surely want his team to claim the away goal that would leave City needing to score three times to progress.

It is, after all, unthinkable that, having not scored in the first leg, City will again fail to register.

It is also unthinkable that Pep Guardiola will opt for the same conservative approach or that City will start without Kevin De Bruyne, who appeared close to returning to his best against Crystal Palace last Sunday.

Going beyond this stage of the competition is uncharted territory for Guardiola or, rather, it is with City, where he has fallen at the last-16 and the last eight in the past two seasons.

Against Spurs last week it felt like Guardiola was haunted by the way Liverpool blew his team away in the first leg of their quarter-final at Anfield last season.

It looked like Guardiola was hoping to keep the tie alive. He achieved that while Pochettino also achieved his goal - a clean sheet and an advantage - which means this tie could not be more delicately poised.

Spurs have been European Cup semi-finalists before, under Bill Nicholson in 1962 with what is universally regarded as their greatest side, but never as part of the Champions League. Can they make history? (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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