Mauricio Pochettino says Tottenham have shaken off the fatigue from their gruelling schedule as they prepare to face Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League last 16 today. Pochettino was frustrated that Tottenham had to play their Premier League match against Leicester on Sunday, while Dortmund were in action 24 hours earlier against Hoffenheim.
The Tottenham boss claimed over the weekend that the extra day of rest for the Bundesliga leaders could put his team at a “massive disadvantage” in the first leg at Wembley. Adding to Pochettino’s frustration, Dortmund have also benefited from a refreshing winter break, while Tottenham have been damaged by injuries to Harry Kane and Dele Alli following the draining Christmas and New Year programme.
But, aware of the dangers of giving his players a ready-made excuse for under-performing, Pochettino was keen to accentuate the positive. “I’ve described before, or in the last few days, that it was a little bit unfair (the schedule),” Pochettino told reporters yesterday. “But that is not an excuse (not) to arrive tomorrow in our best condition and fight to try to win. I think you can feel in the eyes of the players the energy.”
Tottenham beat Dortmund twice in the Champions League group stage last season but they will face more formidable opponents this time. Dortmund sit on top of the Bundesliga with a vibrant squad including young England forward Jadon Sancho. Pochettino is well aware of the threat posed by the Germans as he tries to lead Tottenham into the quarter-finals of a European competition for the first time in his five-year reign.
But, despite the absence of Kane and Alli, they have reeled off four successive wins to stay in the Premier League title race. And Pochettino expects his side to rise to the occasion in the same never-say-die style they displayed in the group stage this term. It took late goals against PSV Eindhoven, Inter Milan and Barcelona for Tottenham to make the last 16 by the skin of their teeth. “We were talking in the meeting before and it’s completely different (in big games),” Pochettino said.
“If you ask me why, I don’t know, because I’m a person whose own motivation is always high, when we play against Dortmund or Barcelona or we play against different (teams) in different competitions. But of course you can feel that it’s the Champions League, that it’s going to be a massive game with, I hope, a full stadium at Wembley and of course the energy and motivation is going to be there.”
Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen has already seized on Pochettino’s upbeat message. Recalling Tottenham’s group-stage win over Real Madrid last season, Vertonghen says the north Londoners have no reason to fear any team in Europe if they play at their best. “We can beat anyone. We have shown that last year. Over two games we were the better team against Real Madrid, who were the eventual winners of the trophy,” he said.
There was frustration for Tottenham at this stage of the Champions League last season when they conceded two second-half goals to crash out against Juventus after they had looked to have the tie in their control.
That painful memory will motivate Vertonghen and company against Dortmund. “That is why it was a shame we could not do better last year because we felt we should have done better,” he said. “That is why everyone has the feeling we can do it this year.”
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