Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino says Chelsea will start FA Cup semi-final as slight favourites
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Spurs manager admits Chelsea have players who have achieved lots in the game, but says his team are ready to win trophies
Two days before the FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino is treading a careful line between putting the pressure on the Blues and ensuring his side maintain their confidence and belief.
Spurs are the in-form team in the Premier League and go into the tie with an eight-match winning run in all competitions, most recently securing back-to-back 4-0 wins over Watford and Bournemouth.
But their manager is clearly keen to avoid a sense of expectation ahead of this weekend’s showdown at Wembley. And, speaking at today’s press conference in Enfield, he repeatedly underlined the league leaders’ credentials.
“If there is one favourite it’s more Chelsea because they are on the top of the table in the Premier League, and [because of] the experienced players they have, and the manager they have,” said Pochettino.
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“We are talking of the team that maybe in the last five years has won European competition, World Cups, a manager that won the league with Juventus in Italy. I think it’s a more experienced team than us.
“To play under our philosophy, to learn, grow up, we’re in a different process, a different moment to Chelsea. It’s impossible to compare the clubs, the teams, when fighting for the FA Cup and Premier League title too.”
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Pochettino is always wary of the view that Spurs’ progress under his watch now needs to be confirmed with the tangible triumph of a trophy — and today he was again keen to highlight the success that has already been achieved.
“It’s a nice sentence to say, ‘we’re ready and we want to win’. But it’s not an easy task. It’s so difficult to win trophies,” he said.
“Three years ago when we signed here, I remember the first few press conferences. You were asking how we could reduce the gap to the top four - that was the main problem that Tottenham had.
“After nearly three years, we have not only reduced the gap to the top four, we’re fighting to win the Premier League and to win some titles. That is the position we wanted to be in and now we have achieved it. Now to win will be more difficult because you’re competing with big clubs, big players.
“Chelsea have players that won the World Cup and, if you compare with our players, they haven’t won anything - maybe some titles.”
While Pochettino is clearly keen to downplay expectations and turn up the heat on Antonio Conte and his players, the Argentinian is nonetheless confident in his own side and believes they can be one of the last two teams standing in the cup.
“We’re in a good moment too, a hungry team,” he said. “To challenge now this type of club, of team, is a very important thing for Tottenham. We’re going there trying to play in our way and trying to win and go to the final.
“We create our own expectation. We feel we can compete with them - that is important. Then the expectation outside the club you cannot manage. Only you can see the reality - if you go outside both clubs you can see and compare the two different cultures, philosophies and projects. Then everyone can have their opinion.
“But our expectation is to win because we are ambitious, we know our strengths and our things we need to improve.
“We are showing we have learned from last season. If we see the stats we have improved a lot. With six games to play in the Premier League, I think we have achieved 71 points. Last season we finished with 70. We have improved, that is the reality.
“The team is playing in a good way, with exciting football, scoring goals and conceding not too many.
“To keep momentum is most important as all can change very quickly. Now is the moment, like last season, to show and to translate that feeling and the stats into reality.”
Tottenham return to Wembley this weekend having lost two of their three Champions League group games at the national stadium and then played out a 2-2 draw with Belgian outfit Gent that resulted in their elimination from the Europa League as well.
Pochettino said: “When we competed at Wembley, the Champions League was a new competition, and then in the Europa League we played with 10 men in the second half. We deserved to go through, it was a little bit unfair, but that’s football.
“It’s true, we struggled a bit to get good results there but we need to make Wembley our home and get that feeling.
“It is a good chance again on Saturday to compete there because if we will move - next week the club decide - and everything happens in the way we hope, next season we move there and there’s no excuses.”