Mauricio Pochettino calm over lack of Spurs silverware ahead of Dortmund Champions League clash

Tottenham Hotspur played Borussia Dortmund twice in the group stages of the Champions League in 2017, winning on both occasions. (AFP)
Updated 13 February 2019
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Mauricio Pochettino calm over lack of Spurs silverware ahead of Dortmund Champions League clash

LONDON: Mauricio Pochettino is staying calm as he faces a defining moment in his reign as Tottenham manager when he tries to keep his bid for a first major prize alive against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League tonight.
The in-demand Argentine has taken to defending his failure to win any trophies in almost five years at the north-London club by insisting he values qualification for Europe’s elite club competition more highly than success in domestic cups.
But for all of Pochettino’s protestations that reaching the Champions League is his primary goal, that claim rings a little hollow when they never make it to the business end of the tournament.
Tottenham have never been past the last-16 of either the Champions League or the Europa League since Pochettino arrived from Southampton in May 2014.
Derided as serial underachievers when they struggled to break into the Premier League’s top four, Pochettino has made Tottenham into Champions League mainstays capable of ruffling the feathers of Europe’s aristocracy.
“We feel so proud and with all the circumstances the team is doing fantastically, the performance of the squad is unbelievable,” Pochettino said.
“We are showing great character and very good quality, fighting against big sides and being in a position that’s very close to the top.
“We hope to keep going in the same direction, to fight for big things.”
But for all their undoubted growth in the Pochettino era, there remains a nagging feeling of unfulfilled potential about Tottenham, who have won only three cups in the past 28 years.
Failure to claim a trophy with a golden generation of Tottenham stars he has cultivated so astutely, including Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-min, has led many to believe he has missed a once-in-a-career opportunity.
While angered by mounting criticism following recent exits from the FA and League Cups, Pochettino confirmed chairman Daniel Levy told him his brief was to finish in the top four while the club build their long-delayed stadium.
For Tottenham’s opponents, Germany legend Lothar Matthaeus believes the German giants will be playing the game without their best player.
Marco Reus, who has scored 17 goals and created 11 more for the Bundesliga leaders this season, has a thigh strain which will keep him out of the first leg.
“Now he’s also going to be missing for the important game against Tottenham — that won’t make it any easier,” said the former Germany captain.
“The third-best team in the Premier League against the best in the Bundesliga. I see the chances as 50/50.
“In Marco Reus, Dortmund are missing their best player.”
However, it is not just Reus who will be missing against Spurs.
Right-back Lukasz Piszczek is out with a heel injury, stand-in center-back Julian Weigl has flu and striker Paco Alcacer is sidelined by a shoulder injury.
Dortmund head coach Lucien Favre is struggling with the effects of flu and England winger Jadon Sancho forgot his passport, forcing a red-faced dash home to retreive the document before making the flight to London.
“Yes, we have a few dropped out, but we won’t be going there just to wave,” said Dortmund’s director of sport Michael Zorc.
Matthaeus says Dortmund’s 3-3 draw at home to Hoffenheim on Saturday showed how much they miss Reus’ influence and organization.
In his absence, Sancho, 18, already a full England international, has taken over playmaking duties and was outstanding in scoring a goal, setting up two more and hitting the post against Hoffenheim before Dortmund leaked three late goals.
“He (Reus) is the one who instills respect until the very end and has a controlling hand on the whole Dortmund game,” added Matthaeus.
“They have also won games without him and were 3-0 ahead on Saturday.”
Matthaeus said Saturday’s draw will have given hope to defending champions Bayern Munich, who closed the gap in the Bundesliga table to five points behind Dortmund with a 3-1 home win against Schalke on Saturday.
“The points Dortmund lost will have given Bayern a push, they’d have been inspired.”


A HAT-TRICK OF HOPES: What the UAE and Saudi Arabia should be looking for from their friendly

Updated 20 March 2019
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A HAT-TRICK OF HOPES: What the UAE and Saudi Arabia should be looking for from their friendly

  • Can the Whites and Green Falcons find the back of the net more often?
  • Both teams need to set the tone ahead of the important World Cup qualifiers.

LONDON: Ahead of Thursday’s friendly between the UAE and Saudi Arabia Arab News looks at the main priorities for both sides as they embark on their new eras after the Asian Cup and ahead of the all-important the World Cup qualifiers.

FIND THOSE SCORING BOOTS

For the past 18 months both sides have struggled for goals. Under Alberto Zaccheroni the UAE scored just 10 goals in the past nine matches — five of those coming against lowly Kyrgyzstan and India — and likewise the Green Falcons have also struggled to find the back of the net. Heading toward the World Cup qualifiers, now is the time to find those scoring boots.

PUT ON A SHOW

Both sides have technically gifted players, can keep the ball and at times trouble opposition defenses. But both have been too defensive, too safety-first and, at times, too dull. Football is supposed to be entertainment, and the friendlies ahead of the World Cup qualifiers might be no bad time to throw caution to the wind and see what the players can do in the final third.

SET THE TONE

As the modern cliche goes, a week is a long time in football. With all the sackings and player movements, it is not hard to see the kernel of truth in that overused saying. But, conversely, time can also move very fast in the “Beautiful Game.” It may be six months before the World Cup qualifiers begin, but it will be September before the coaches and players know it. Set the tone and tactics now and triumphs will be easier to come by then and, more importantly, further into the future.