With the Premier League title-race set to take a break as the FA Cup returns for its semi-final instalment, Tottenham Hotspur prepare to face off once more against title rivals Chelsea.
The Lilywhites are looking to not only remain in the hunt for more silverware, but seize a potentially crucial psychological advantage over the Blues in the league with a cup victory at Wembley.
To this end, manager Mauricio Pochettino has set about building-up his side as underdogs on the big occasion, in an attempt to relieve the pressure on his side, and heap the heavy weight of expectation onto the shoulders of Antonio Conte’s men once again.
In terms of recent form and general play, Spurs have been tipped as the best team in the Premier League at present, with eight wins from eight in all competitions, which has helped them reduce the gap at the top of the Premier League to four points, with six games remaining.
Despite the stakes of the semi-final, plus the psychological advantages it may hand to the winners in the league, Pochettino was insistent that like in the title-race, his side must be considered second-favourites behind the pace-setting Blues.
“If there’s a favourite, it’s Chelsea”, Pochettino said at the press-conference prior to the FA Cup semi-final on Thursday, as quoted by the Guardian.
“They are top of the Premier League and then there is the experienced players and the manager that they have. We are talking about the team that, in the last five years, have won European competitions, World Cups, and a manager who won the title in Italy.
“When you compare the players who have won trophies, Chelsea have players who won the World Cup. Our players have won nothing.”
But besides talking up the Blues for the experience in their ranks, the Argentine was equally quick to praise his own side, and encouraged them to stand up to the challenge against the ‘best team’ in the country and reach the FA Cup final.
“They’re more experienced. But we’re in a good moment, too. We are hungry and it’s important for us to challenge this team. We will see but it’s important to enjoy the game.
We must feel the happiness. It’s a very important competition and we are fighting the best team in England.”
“But we are improving a lot. First, you have to be there to challenge, and we have that opportunity. It’s up to us now to step up and make the dream a reality.
“In the league we have 71 points with six matches to go whereas we finished last season with 70 points. Now it is the moment to translate those stats and the feeling we have; to show that we’ve grown up. That’s the most difficult step to achieve.”
Pochettino also showed of a little of his fiery streak at the same press-conference.
The Argentine responded with a cool defiance when quizzed about the future of contract-rebel defender Toby Alderweireld, after news broke on Wednesday that the Belgian international had turned down the offer of an improved deal at White Hart Lane.
“Speak with Daniel (Levy)”, Pochettino said, quoted by the Independent.
“Some clubs are interested in some players. It’s very clear they need to knock on the door of Daniel Levy.”
Alderweireld first arrived at Tottenham in 2015, following a successful loan-spell at Southampton, then managed by current Spurs chief Pochettino.
The North Londoners shelled out £11.4 million for the Belgian, who has since become one of the club’s most important players, and was a surprise omission in this season’s PFA Premier League Team of the Year.
The 28-year-old has two years left to run in his current deal, with the option of a third year, but speculation of interest from well-backed Serie A giants Inter Milan has emerged, amidst news that Alderweireld as a £25 million release clause written into his current contract at the Lane.
“The players that will leave the club is always a club decision,” Pochettino continued. “All the players have contracts for the next two or three years minimum and we are not worried.
“I invite the clubs who want players from Tottenham to visit the training ground and meet our chairman. Nobody has doubts about Toby, no.”
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