Mauricio Pochettino reveals Tottenham Hotspur have not practised penalties ahead of Europa League clash with Gent
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Spurs boss admits it’s impossible to recreate pressure of spotkicks in front of 90,000
Mauricio Pochettino says Tottenham have not been practising penalties ahead of tomorrow’s Europa League tie against Gent, insisting it is impossible to recreate the pressure his players would face in front of 90,000 people at Wembley.
Spurs trail 1-0 against the Belgian side in the last-32 encounter, following last week’s first leg in Belgium – and a 1-0 home win on Thursday would force a shoot-out.
But, asked if the Lilywhites have been preparing for such a scenario, Pochettino said: “I am honest, no. I hope we will not arrive at penalties but, if it arrives, we trust in them.
“You can shoot 100 penalties here without the public, the supporters, and then when the moment arrives when you take the ball with 90,000 fans and you start to shake...
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“A penalty is not about practice, it’s about personality and character and conviction – to shoot and score.”
A 2-0 victory for Spurs would secure their place in the last 16 without the need for such drama. However, an away goal for Gent would greatly increase the difficulty of Tottenham’s task, forcing them to score at least three times to progress.
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“We need to change the result, and it’s true that we need to have a very good balance,” said Pochettino. “It’s important for us tomorrow to keep the balance in between attacking and defence because it’s only 1-0 after the first leg.
“We have time to turn that around, but we have to be clever. We have to play well, be aggressive, improve our performance from the game in Belgium and that will be key – to be aggressive and try to keep patient in how we play tomorrow.”
Mousa Dembele stated last week that Spurs “underestimated” Gent – which Pochettino disagrees with. However, the manager was unimpressed with his side’s lack of intensity, which he spotted inside the very first minute.
“They did not surprise me,” he said. “We were poor and they were better. We watched many of their games and knew their quality. What surprised me the most was our performance, not theirs.
“Tomorrow we are aware of how they play and it’s up to us to show we deserve to go to the next round. It’s about us.
“When we started against Gent, if you only watch 50 seconds you don’t need to be a genius – there was a problem because we were not focused.
“In that moment it was too difficult to change. We changed the formation at half time to try to lift them but it was impossible.
“When you don’t start in a good way then it’s too difficult to change that perception and then you give a very good signal to the opponent that you’re not focused on the game, and then to change that mentality is too difficult during the game.”
Pochettino picked a strong line-up for the first leg and is likely to do so again, with Harry Kane leading the line.
“I will play with the players that deserve maybe to play and show me they can cope with the pressure,” said Pochettino. “Then, win or lose, it’s another thing. But every time I take the decision it’s because I believe the players can provide the victories.”
Pochettino seems to be relying on an ever-decreasing selection of trusted players, which could cause problems in the latter stages of the campaign – especially if Spurs continue to battle on three fronts in the Premier League, Europa League and FA Cup.
Kyle Walker has said that the Spurs boss has tweaked his training regime, stating that “he’s cut down on some of the training sessions” and “might not demand as much as he used to”.
But Pochettino rejected that suggestion, saying: “I think it’s an individual perception from the player. I think always from day one we’ve had a plan – micro-cycles: see the competition that we are involved in, try to push the players individually and collectively.
“But maybe his perception is because in the last few weeks, for different reasons, he wasn’t too involved in the training sessions – for personal problems before Manchester City, then before Liverpool because he got a virus.
“Maybe it’s his perception that because he rested on Sunday [against Fulham], he’s very fresh. It’s his individual perception.”
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