Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino and Harry Kane eye winning start to Champions League campaign
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Duo reiterate importance of first match of this season’s European campaign after finishing third in Group F last time out
Harry Kane and Mauricio Pochettino are adamant Tottenham must learn from last year’s failings and this time make a winning start to their Champions League campaign at Wembley.
Spurs began their 2016 European adventure with a 2-1 loss against Monaco at the national stadium, and they never really recovered.
Also losing 1-0 to Bayer Leverkusen in north-west London, the Lilywhites ultimately finished third in the group and exited the competition.
One year on, Pochettino’s side are again kicking off their Champions League campaign on home turf at Wembley, this time against another German outfit – current Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund.
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With reigning European champions Real Madrid also in Group H, Kane knows there is little margin for error and that a better start is essential.
Kane said: “Last year we got off to a bad start, which didn’t help us. I think we have to do better at home and that’s something we’ve got to learn from this year.
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“We’ve got to make sure we win our home games because going away in the Champions League is always going to be difficult, no matter who you play.
“We need to try to improve our home form. That starts tomorrow night, and we’ll go from there. We’re in a tough group but it’s a good test for us, and the players are excited to play against the best teams in Europe.
“We’re really looking forward to it after our last campaign, when things obviously didn’t go as well as we wanted them to. We’ve been waiting for the Champions League to start again to show everybody what we can do at this level.”
Pochettino added: “Last season, after the first game at home against Monaco, it was difficult to change the dynamic. I think it’s so important, like Harry said, to try to win the first game and get three points.
“It will be tough because Dortmund is a great, great team but in our mind our mentality is to try to win and be aggressive from the first ball.
“I think tomorrow is such an important game. To start well in the competition and get three points will be key to the future of course.
“It’s true that in theory Real Madrid [are] first, then Dortmund, Tottenham and Apoel compete to be second. That’s the theory but football is not theory.”
Pochettino continued: “It’s a tough competition. I think it’s at the same level of the Premier League and with the amount of focus and energy [you need], it’s massive - maybe the same or more than the Premier League.
“Last season was our first experience of the Champions League. Previously we played in the Europa League, for 98 or 99 per cent of the players, and for myself too.
“We know very well what the competition demands from you, and I think it is so important, that experience from last season. It was a very painful experience because we could not be at the level we should have been, but today it’s not an excuse. We need to be ready to compete at a higher level.”
Tottenham are perhaps facing Dortmund at a good time – the Germans are missing seven players through injury.
Meanwhile, Pochettino has hinted he could hand a debut to right-back Serge Aurier – “maybe, maybe,” he said – but the Argentinian will be without Victor Wanyama again in addition to his long-term absentees.
Dele Alli is also suspended for the first three Champions League group games due to his sending-off against Gent back in February.
“He’s a fantastic player and we will miss him,” said Kane. “But fortunately we have a fantastic squad and I’m sure whoever comes in will be ready to compete on the big stage. Of course Dele’s a miss, but that’s football. It’s done and we have to move on.”
Kane, who scored two goals in his three Champions League matches last season, sees the coming matches as an important opportunity to show what he can do against Europe’s best.
“I’ve said before I want to break into that world-class bracket,” he said. “To do that you have to play well in the Champions League. It’s a big stage - all the best players in Europe, if not the world, are here, and to be the best you have to produce your best against the best.
“I have six group games to prove that by hopefully scoring as many goals as possible and performing well.”
Spurs, and England’s representatives in general, will have to improve greatly if they are to be considered serious Champions League contenders.
Spain have dominated in recent years, with Real Madrid or Barcelona winning the last four editions, and it is five years since a British team lifted the trophy.
Last season only one team from these shores reached the quarter-finals, where Leicester City were eliminated by Atletico Madrid. Pochettino has a few theories about the subject.
“The Premier League is the principle competition for every single player that plays in it - it’s a massive competition,” he said. “When you’re here in England, the players want to play in the Premier League and fight to win it.
“Because maybe we are not in Europe – and more now (with Brexit)! – [it is difficult to understand but] the feeling in Italy, Spain and France is that the Champions League is the most important competition in the world.
“But for an English club and in the English culture, the Premier League is the most important, then maybe the FA Cup, and the Champions League and Europa League are competitions that are important but not at the Premier League’s level.
“That is so difficult to explain to the outside - only when you’re here and you can explain that the Premier League is massive for every club and the players too.
“That’s the culture. In Spain and Italy, they prioritise the Champions League over the domestic leagues. The teams at another levels prioritise the Europa League over their domestic league too. You understand because the Premier League is the most tough, impressive, exciting league in the world.”
Pochettino added: “Managers like [Pep] Guardiola are now starting to realise how tough the Premier League is, how difficult it is to arrive fresh to compete in the Europa League or Champions League.
“The different leagues in Europe are completely different and only when you are here do you realise how tough it is to keep the same level in Premier League and European competition.
“The solution? Maybe people have different ideas about that. But I think when you see the scale of the Premier League, with the cups and different competitions, the most busy period is Christmas - and other competitions like La Liga, Serie A or Bundesliga, they have rest and do not compete.
“Then the consequence is not arriving in the best condition in the key moments in the competitions - the Europa League and Champions League.
“I think we cannot change. It’s in the Premier League and its culture. But we need to try to be clever and find a way to arrive in a better condition and be more competitive in the Champions League and try to win. That is our idea.”
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