Spurs defender Toby Alderweireld set to return at Watford after recovering from virus
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Mauricio Pochettino says Toby Alderweireld has recovered from his virus – and the Tottenham manager has stressed he did not mislead fans about the Belgian’s availability against Southampton.
Alderweireld, who missed 10 games between October and December due a nerve problem in his leg, was then ruled out of the home game against Burnley on December 18 due to a back injury.
Pochettino reported at his following press conference that the defender was fit to return to the side – but Alderweireld was missing again when Spurs visited Southampton on Wednesday, this time with a virus.
Some fans were unconvinced by the explanation, and a few comments on social media suggested Pochettino had misled the supporters – a fact the manager was clearly keen to address when he spoke to the media today ahead of the trip to Watford on New Year’s Day.
“He (Alderweireld) trained well today, he has recovered from the virus he got a day before the game against Southampton,” said Pochettino. “But I don’t want to say anything because before the Southampton game I said that he had recovered from his back problem, which was why he didn’t play against Burnley.
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“I think the press conference was five days before the game [against Southampton] because it was Christmas and I didn’t want to disturb you. But he got a virus one day before the match and there’s nothing we could do about that. We hope he’ll be available for Watford.”
Erik Lamela is not yet ready to return, though, with Pochettino reporting: “He’s still recovering. He’s doing well but we need to wait for him to recover his fitness, his level.”
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As usual, the Spurs boss refused to comment on a number of transfer rumours ahead of the start of the January transfer window.
The Argentinean side-stepped questions about Spurs’ reported interest in Everton’s Ross Barkley and Real Madrid playmaker Isco, while repeating that he expects little movement in the next month unless a golden opportunity presents itself.
Pochettino did, however, take the chance to shoot down suggestions that Austria international defender Kevin Wimmer could leave the club on loan.
“No, we are not talking about that internally,” he said. “I’m happy with him – he’s still very young. We bought him not only for the present but for the future. There’s nothing to discuss about him. I don’t expect players to leave the club in January. There’s no sense.”
Spurs host league leaders Chelsea, who are 10 points ahead of them, after Sunday’s visit to Watford, but Pochettino is refusing to plan ahead and is firmly focused on the trip to Vicarage Road.
“The most important game is Watford,” he said. “It’s important to try to reduce the gap to the top four or keep it the same. It’s important - we need to be focused on Watford because they are the most important points now for us.
“There’s a long way ahead. It will be tough for all the contenders - Chelsea have a very big gap now to second and 10 points to us - but it’s not decisive. We need to believe, we’re fighting to reduce the gap and we have a very good opportunity when we play them. Firstly we need to win against Watford.”
Tottenham will travel up to Hertfordshire in fine form after five wins from their last six games and Dele Alli, who has had quiet spells at times this season, seems to be returning to top form after scoring three times in his last two matches against Burnley and Southampton.
“I was happy with him [before],” said Pochettino. “The young players need to try to improve every day. Dele Alli has big potential to improve.
“I think it’s impossible to keep the same level he was playing at, which was very high, for the whole season. Sometimes you can drop in performance. No doubt he is, and he will be, one of the best players in England in the next 10 years.”
There is much to look forward to as Tottenham head into 2017, but Pochettino admits there are some mixed feelings about the first half of the campaign.
“It’s up to you how you want to judge the season,” he said. “It’s difficult to judge. If we compare with last season, we have four more points but we are fifth. Last season we were fourth. Maybe people can have different opinions - maybe better, maybe worse.
“I think we feel disappointed to be out of the Champions League but in the Premier League we’re doing well. We can do better, of course, we can improve.
“This season the expectation was massive and to be out of the Champions League is a little bit disappointing for us, and the supporters too.
“Maybe that feeling does not reflect the numbers. We broke the record [for Premier League points in a calendar year] in 2016 with 71 points so we can be happy. But for different reasons it’s not 100 per cent full happiness.”
One thing that has made Pochettino happy is the fact that the FA have decided not to punish Jan Vertonghen with a retrospective ban after the Belgian caught Southampton’s Jay Rodriguez in the face with his hand on Wednesday.
While Vertonghen is about to serve a one-match suspension after picking up his fifth yellow card of the Premier League season at Southampton, ruling him out of Sunday’s match at Watford, that will be the extent of his absence – and Pochettino has praised Rodriguez, who previously played under him at St Mary’s Stadium.
“The clip, in the first moment you could say it was maybe intentional but it wasn’t intentional,” said Pochettino. “The reaction of Jay Rodriguez was fair play - they talked.
“Maybe it looked bad but when you review it again it was an action that maybe you don’t realise... I’m happy that there’s no action from the FA to Jan, and I want to say the behaviour of Jay Rodriguez as a team-mate, as a player, was fantastic.
“It’s difficult to keep calm in those moments. In football we need more actions like this to understand both sides.”
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs