Mauricio Pochettino hoping Tottenham Hotspur winger Georges-Kevin Nkoudou will show his quality against APOEL
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Youngster will get chance to start in the Champions League after impressing his manager in training during the last few weeks
Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino says he has seen encouraging signs that Georges-Kevin Nkoudou is maturing as a player and is ready for more first-team action.
The 22-year-old, who arrived from Marseille in the summer of 2016, has struggled to make an impact in north London and has only made four substitute appearances this season.
But the young winger could get an opportunity to impress on Wednesday as Spurs take on Cypriot side APOEL in their final Champions League group H fixture.
Since Tottenham have already secured top spot in the group, Pochettino is set to rest a host of senior players.
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Although Dele Alli will start at Wembley, Hugo Lloris, Eric Dier, Kieran Trippier, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane were all absent from Tuesday’s training session and will be given the night off, with the manager instead fielding some fringe players and youngsters.
“I am happy with [Nkoudou] in the last few weeks,” said Pochettino. “He started to realised that he needed to improve in many things.
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“He’s so young. I wanted to give him an opportunity before but maybe it was impossible. Maybe tomorrow he will have the possibility to play and to prove that he can help the team and start to grow up.
“When players are so young, always they need different timings and to realise how they need to work. I think he’s a great guy.
“There’s nothing to complain about with his behaviour and everything, because he’s a lovely kid. But in professional football… In the last few weeks he’s shown he should have the possibility to play and show his quality.”
Pochettino is trying to arrest a poor run of form, with Spurs winning just one of their last five matches, and he continued: “You never know when it’s a good opportunity to rotate or give other players the chance to play.
“When you win, maybe you can stop the momentum if you rest some players. Maybe if you don’t win - if you draw like last Saturday [at Watford] - maybe you give the possibility to the same players, to get that momentum again.
“You assess the players and, sure, some players need to rest or are tired a little bit. Then it’s a game that only provides us with three points and some money, and the opportunity to play with some players that need to be ready if we need them.
“It’s a great opportunity to show to the gaffer and the fans that they’re ready to play more regularly in the starting XI. We need to take the game very seriously.
“We want to win, and it’s a good one to win and get our momentum. We have a lot of games ahead and some players need to rest.”
Academy players Kazaiah Sterling and Luke Amos trained with the first team on Tuesday and Pochettino confirmed: “They will be involved in the squad tomorrow.
“I think they both deserve to be involved. My relationship with the academy, with [academy head] John McDermott and [academy manager] Dean Rastrick is fantastic, and with all the coaching staff.
“When we need players to be involved in the first team, it’s always a decision taken all together, and, who deserves to be in the first team will be in the first team.
“Kazaiah and Luke Amos, they are working very well and they behave so good. That is why they deserve it - they have the quality as well in the positions where we are looking to try to help the team tomorrow. We needed a midfielder, like Luke Amos, and another striker, like Kazaiah Sterling.”
Last September Pochettino compared another academy prospect, Marcus Edwards, to Lionel Messi – but 15 months later he has only made one senior appearance.
Spurs fans may have been hoping to see the 19-year-old in action at Wembley against Apoel, but he has been overlooked again.
“We have plenty of players in the academy - not only him, plenty of players that need to work hard and wait for their opportunity,” said Pochettino.
“Maybe I made a mistake [in comparing him to Messi] because I believed it was positive and he was going to take it in a positive way.
“It’s about performance. When you’re young, sometimes you need more time. Sometimes it looks like it’s time to have the possibility to play, or sometimes you stop your evolution.
“We still trust in him, that he can be important. It’s up to him after that to show us and everyone here at Tottenham that he deserves to be in the first team. It’s never easy, the last step, to join the first team from the academy.”
Pochettino was asked for his thoughts on referee Mark Clattenburg’s comments, after the 42-year-old official stated during a podcast that he allowed Spurs to “self-destruct” during the infamous Battle of the Bridge against Chelsea in May 2016.
But the Argentinian refused to be drawn. Having initially replied “no comment”, he added: “I prefer to be quiet and be focused on trying to help my team, because in the end if not we are going to distract the focus, and today our focus is trying to fix the problems we have in the team – which is winning games.
“When you don’t win then all [theories about why] is possible, all is related. Maybe it’s possible that there was too much confidence [after we beat Real Madrid]. Maybe it’s possible that another reason happened in that moment after [that match], and changed something in our mind.
“Or maybe, after playing high-level and high-tempo games with massive pressure, the team needs to breathe and bounce back again and assimilate that situation, which was new for everyone.
“All the opinions are good, and maybe all the opinions are wrong. The most important thing for us now is to try to help them to start to perform, because we can perform in the way we did against Real Madrid and Dortmund, or in games like Liverpool, when we were fantastic.
“It is a good period to learn and try to work hard and try to change, because it will be fantastic, that experience, if we change the dynamic as soon as possible.”
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