Inside Lane: Spurs boss Pochettino should be focusing on Chelsea ahead of tonight’s Europa League outing
Baku, Azerbaijan. The Spurs squad are halfway through a 5,000-mile round trip and face FK Qarabag this evening just 64 hours prior to another London derby - Chelsea are the visitors for a midday kick-off on Sunday at White Hart Lane.
Mauricio Pochettino said this week that he can “only smile” at the schedule, but it can’t be avoided. What can be avoided, though, is injuries to key players.
The likes of Jan Vertonghen and Hugo Lloris have played every minute of the Europa League campaign so far this season, and Harry Kane has also featured in all of the four group games.
Tonight’s opponents, Qarabag, sound like something you can throw your groceries into for 5p. But they impressed in spells in the reverse fixture, taking an early lead before Spurs triumphed 3-1 at the Lane. And, with just three points between us and Qarabag at the top and bottom of the table respectively, Group J remains tight and qualification is by no means secure yet.
Pochettino has already taken a strong squad to Baku but is yet to field his starting XI. So should he pick his best side or rest key players for the grudge match with Chelsea? It’s not an easy decision for the Argentine. We all know how important momentum is in football, but surely one eye – or even two – will be on recording back-to-back wins over city rivals after Sunday’s emphatic win over West Ham.
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For this week at least, the priority has to be the Premier League. Heung-Min Son, Andros Townsend and Clinton N’Jie, to name a few, should all be given chances to impress and regain fitness in Europe, while the established first-teamers deserve this one off.
There is simply one must-win game this week and it’s on Sunday. A second-string Spurs side should still have too much for Azerbaijan’s top team, and if it isn’t, we will have senior players ready to come off the bench and, if necessary, we will get another go under the lights against Monaco at the Lane next month.
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When the fixture list comes out every season, the first two gamees I look for involve our north London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea - the big ones.
When Eric Dier lined up in central midfield against Manchester United for the Premier League’s curtain raiser, not even the most optimistic of Spurs fans went to bed that night dreaming of Champions League football.
However, 13 games in, Pochettino’s Tottenham are the talk of the town. Playing liquid football, out-running our rivals and sitting just four points off the top, Spurs have an X-factor.
A win over Chelsea on Sunday could but all rule the champions out of the title race and, dare I say it, the top-four hunt too. Now that’s something to play for.
Follow me on Twitter @GeorgeLacey_