Mauricio Pochettino: Tottenham Hotspur must now focus again on trying to catch the ‘best team in Europe’
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Spurs boss calls on team to reduce gap to leaders Manchester City and build on Wednesday’s win over Real Madrid
Mauricio Pochettino says Sunday’s clash against Crystal Palace is just as important as Wednesday’s triumph over Real Madrid as Tottenham chase a Manchester City side that, in their manager’s view, is presently the best in Europe.
Wednesday’s 3-1 victory over the reigning European champions will live long in the memory, but Pochettino has warned his players they must quickly refocus on this weekend’s league clash, given Spurs’ last top-flight fixture ended in a defeat at Manchester United that left them eight points behind Pep Guardiola’s leaders.
“Of course it’s massive for us,” said the Lilywhites boss. “When we finished the game against Real Madrid we were sitting, all the coaching staff, in the manager’s room and we knew it was fantastic, the victory, but we started to plan for the next game, and not only that but the game against Arsenal and all that comes.
“It’s so important to reduce the gap again. The game against Manchester United was very painful, to lose in the way we lost, and now it’s important after that victory over Real Madrid to focus on Crystal Palace. For me it has the same value as the Real Madrid game, Crystal Palace.
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“Manchester City are doing very well and, in the Premier League and Champions League, they are showing unbelievable performances. I think it’s the team most in form in Europe today.
“Of course there’s a long way to go. Their challenge is to keep their form and be consistent during the whole season. But so far they are showing great quality for me they’re the best team today in Europe.
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“We must be focused. We must use Wednesday’s result to lift us, to build our confidence, but understand we must work hard to try to get another good result on Sunday.
“It will be tough. It’s always difficult to play after Wednesday because the effort was massive, but we must be ready.
“Crystal Palace have a very good team. They’ve struggled a bit from the beginning of the season and changed their manager. We know very well Roy Hodgson – a great manager, and we had a very good relationship when he was in charge of the national team. His teams are always very well organised and it will demand a lot of energy again to try to win.”
Tottenham will be hampered by the absence of both Toby Alderweireld and Hugo Lloris, with the duo suffering hamstring and groin injuries respectively during Wednesday’s match against Madrid.
“There’s no new information about Toby today,” said Pochettino. “We must wait about him and Hugo, for the scans they are now going to do this afternoon. It’s sure tomorrow we will have a better idea.
“Today it’s speculation. We can guess but I think we must wait for the information from the scanner and the assessment from the doctor.”
Erik Lamela is also not yet ready to return, but Pochettino said: “Maybe after the international break he can be available. We hope so because he’s so close. For Sunday it’s so difficult but after two weeks maybe he can be available again for the team.”
There is also encouraging news on Victor Wanyama, who has been out of action since August with a knee injury.
“He’s doing well, he’s getting better every day,” said Pochettino. “Yesterday in training he was good - still not with the team, but alone, with the sports science people and the physio.
“The reaction from his knee was good. I cannot guess [when he will be back] because it’s like Lamela - he needs to feel his knee is safe and feels good to step up to be ready to compete.”
Harry Kane has also suffered no ill-effects after returning from a hamstring strain to face Madrid in midweek: “He’s well, he feels good,” said Pochettino. “It’s in the past and it’s good for us.”
The Spurs manager can also call upon Harry Winks and Kieran Trippier if he so desires, and he has been delighted with the pair’s development, which culminated in their impressive performances against Real in midweek.
“It’s very good news for us to have different players, to be very competitive, because you can see now the competition is so tough for us,” said Pochettino. “We need everyone fit and with the right mentality to compete for a place in the team.
“We’re so happy [with Kieran] because he came from Burnley, he was very humble about trying to fight for his place in the team, and after two years he’s playing against Real Madrid in the Champions League. We’re so proud about him.
“His improvement, like with Dele Alli or Harry Kane or different players, is because of them. It’s because of him, that Kieran is so involved and focused on trying to be better every day, and that is the secret.
“With Harry [Winks], it’s up to him now to keep his feet on the grass. His mentality is so important, trying to be better. We try to translate the feeling as we do with different players here, that it’s never enough.
“It’s the same if you’re a 40-year-old like [Gianluigi] Buffon. It’s never enough, you can always be better and do better. If we are capable of keeping that mentality in the youngsters and in the team, all is possible.
“His characteristics and potential are massive because whether he plays against Real Madrid or the Under-23s, his mentality is always to win and perform well, and it is so important to keep that feeling for him in his career.”
Pochettino has also discussed Alli’s best role, having used him as a deeper-lying midfielder and also as a No10 in recent matches, and seeing him score four goals in four games while operating in those different positions.
“I think when he’s on the pitch, and you can feel the same as me, he’s not a specific player like a goalkeeper or striker,” said Pochettino. “He’s an offensive midfielder.
“Sometimes he’s more in the box than some strikers. He can drop his position and play deeper, like a holding midfielder or with two or three midfielders. He can start on the left or right or go inside.
“With his characteristics, of course he’s not a centre-back or a full-back, or a wing-back or a goalkeeper, and then he can play in different positions. It’s great to have players like him that can develop his game in different positions on the pitch.”
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