Spurs are in an ‘ideal situation’ in the race for a top-four finish according to Mauricio Pochettino
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If Tottenham Hotspur win their last two games they will finish third, but failure to do so could see them miss out on the top-four
Mauricio Pochettino says Tottenham Hotspur are in an “ideal situation” ahead of their final two matches, even though Chelsea are now breathing down their necks in the race for Champions League qualification.
Fourth-placed Spurs opened up a 10-point gap over their fifth-placed London rivals last month, but they have only won one of their last four Premier League matches, and Antonio Conte’s Blues are now just two points behind.
Both teams have two matches to play, with Spurs’ coming at home against Newcastle United on Wednesday night and Leicester City on Sunday.
Having seemingly been heading for a comfortable top-four finish, Tottenham may now need to win both matches to keep Chelsea at bay – but if they do so they would overtake Liverpool and finish third, so Pochettino is entirely happy with the scenario.
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“It’s sure everyone from the beginning of the season [would have signed up] to be in this situation at the end of the season, fighting for the top four,” said the Argentinian.
“Of course we’re disappointed because of the last game (the 1-0 loss at West Bromwich Albion), and because we lost the [FA Cup] semi-final against Manchester United, or because of the Champions League match against Juventus.
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“But we are there competing, trying to succeed, pushing hard, working hard, and now in four days to have the option, or have it in your hands, to be third, I think it’s an ideal situation for us and we need to enjoy that.
“Now it’s not about tactics, it’s not about one or another name in the starting XI. Today it’s more about being focused as a team, as a club, and trying to win the last two games and being sure in the top four, because it’s in our hands.”
Tottenham finished second with 86 points last season and will fall below that level this term – the best they can achieve is a third-place finish with 77 points. But Pochettino insists the club have continued to move forward.
“For me, it’s amazing progression - first of all because you need to compare every season in context, not out of context,” he said.
“Last season at White Hart Lane we played 19 games in the Premier League, and we won 17 and drew twice. We were playing fantastically there, we were very confident about winning.
“You finish second in the league, then you move to Wembley, and of course there’s a lot of fears because the Champions League wasn’t great last season.
“If you analyse all in context I think it’s an amazing season - to have the possibility with two games left to finish third, I think it’s massively successful. But I understand people want more. We want more. We’re ambitious.
“This project started maybe not four years ago but certainly two and a half years ago, trying to provide Tottenham with the best things to try to compete and fight for big things.
“Like in football, sometimes you need patience to play, to build from the back, to find your best position on the pitch, to grind down the opponent. In that situation, in this project, it’s the same. We need patience, we need to work hard.
“Sometimes we’re disappointed. Sometimes you need to start again. Sometimes you need to be focused on maybe doing some different movements.
“For me it’s like a marathon, to create a team capable of winning, to build a winning mentality. It’s not an explosive 100m, standing and stopping in nine seconds. It’s 42km and it’s a long-term development, sometimes with ups and downs but always going up. I think that is the progression of the club and the team.”
Pochettino continued: “I’m disappointed of course if we don’t achieve in the next few years a title, but what we cannot do is to forget from where we came.
“Today to be competitive, to arrive in this moment with the possibility to be third, I think if you look at the past and the history of the club, this group of players deserves a lot of credit, and the club for making all that situation happen.
“Of course it’s never enough in football and I always told the players, after working hard for two hours in a training session, ‘yes well done, but it’s not enough, it’s not enough’.
“You can see that it’s not enough to have the possibility to fight for the Champions League. The people want to win. But we are the first that want to win. But only we need patience to win.”
Tottenham will be without three central midfielders against Newcastle on Wednesday.
Mousa Dembele hasn’t recovered yet from a twisted ankle, while Harry Winks will miss the remaining matches with his own ankle problem, and Eric Dier has been struck down by illness.
“Last night he (Dier) started with vomiting and fever, and now it’s normal that he needs a minimum of 48 hours to recover to be available again for training,” said Pochettino.
“We don’t know the reason why. Maybe it’s my fault, I don’t know! We hope he will be available for the weekend. I hope yes and I believe he can be available.”
Right-back Serge Aurier (hamstring) is also out of action, but centre-back Jan Vertonghen is fit to play despite limping off at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday with a twisted ankle.
Meanwhile, Pochettino has sent his best wishes to former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who has had emergency surgery on a brain haemorrhage.
“It was very sad news for us on Saturday, and for everyone that loves football and loves him,” said the Spurs manager. “My thoughts are with him and with his family.
“I hope that he will recover as soon as possible. Of course it’s very, very sad news but I think we are now more optimistic about him.”
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