Tuesday 17 September 2019

Mauricio Pochettino defends Toby Alderweireld snub for Juventus clash as covetous eyes keep track of Tottenham

Tottenham Hotspur coach Mauricio Pochettino
Tottenham Hotspur coach Mauricio Pochettino

Matt Law

Timing is everything in football, which is why Mauricio Pochettino’s decision to leave Toby Alderweireld in England may go some way to shaping the path of his own career, as well as that of the defender’s, this week.

Pochettino takes Tottenham Hotspur into a Champions League last-16 tie for the first time in Turin on Tuesday night, while Real Madrid prepare for their encounter with Paris Saint-Germain 24 hours later.

Any result that gives Spurs a good chance of progression into the quarter-finals against a Juventus team, who have won their last 10 games and conceded only one goal in 15, will increase Pochettino’s army of admirers. And should one of those admirers, Real, slip up at home against PSG, then the name of Pochettino will become even more prominent in the debate over who should succeed Zinedine Zidane as manager at the Bernabeu.

Tottenham’s eye-catching results against Real, the draw in Madrid and victory at Wembley, were both achieved with Alderweireld starting as one of three central defenders. The Belgian injured his hamstring in the home game and missed over three months before returning to action with 90 minutes against Newport County in the FA Cup last week.

Pochettino stressed that he believes Alderweireld will benefit more from staying behind and working on his fitness, but admitted the 28 year-old feels differently. “It was a massive injury that we needed to be cautious over because we cannot put at risk his career,” said Pochettino. “We designed a plan from day one to provide him the best route to recovery and be stronger than before.

“Of course we are sorry for him because when you miss some games like Arsenal or the Champions League that we have worked a lot to try to play... I can understand. And we are frustrated too, because when you cannot play it is difficult to accept. The player always thinks he is fit, but it is our responsibility to take the best decision.

“He will be part of the team next Sunday against Rochdale (in the FA Cup) and, again, we are going to assess him day by day.”

Talks over a new contract for Aldweireld have stalled and are not expected to resume any time soon. It remains to be seen whether or not his Juventus omission will ultimately prove decisive with Chelsea, Manchester United, City and Real all watching on.

Having already coped well without Alderweireld for games against Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, Tottenham can enhance Pochettino’s reputation further with a favourable result against last season’s Champions League finalists Juventus. But a defeat and any sort of defensive issues will prompt debate.

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