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

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.”


Manchester United and City seek derby delight

Updated 06 December 2019

Manchester United and City seek derby delight

  • Liverpool travel to Bournemouth aiming to surge further clear at the top of the points chart

LONDON: Both sides of the Manchester divide will be hoping some derby delight can add impetus to disappointing seasons when City host United on Saturday, while Liverpool travel to Bournemouth aiming to surge further clear at the top of the Premier League.

Manchester United got a badly needed win for manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Wednesday, inflicting a first defeat on Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho as the Portuguese returned to Old Trafford.

The Red Devils were again reliant on Marcus Rashford goals as the England forward struck twice to take his tally to 12 in 13 games for club and country.

“He was strong, direct, taking people on, inside and outside with no fear,” said Solskjaer. “That’s what we want — we want to see boys enjoying themselves.”

There has been precious little for United fans to enjoy this season, but just a fifth Premier League victory in 15 games was enough to lift them up to sixth.

That is still 11 points adrift of third-placed City, despite their own struggles at times.

Pep Guardiola’s men looked more like their old selves in thrashing Burnley 4-1 on Tuesday with Gabriel Jesus stepping up in the absence of the injured Sergio Aguero to score twice.

City have lost just one of six league meetings with United since Guardiola took charge three years ago and cannot afford to slip up if they are to maintain any aspirations of catching Liverpool in the title race. The English champions could kick off at the Etihad 14 points behind the leaders, should Jurgen Klopp’s men continue their scintillating form at Bournemouth earlier on Saturday.

“For the distance we are behind Liverpool it would be crazy to think about the title, we have to think about the derby,” said Guardiola.

Klopp could even afford the luxury of leaving Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah on the bench for a 5-2 thrashing of Everton in the Merseyside derby in midweek.

Both are expected to return for the visit to the south coast, but Klopp may rest some of his stars who did start against Everton ahead of a huge week for the European champions.

Liverpool travel to Salzburg in the Champions League on Tuesday needing to avoid defeat if their defense of the title is not to embarrassingly end in the group stages.

Divock Origi scored twice against Everton and Xherdan Shaqiri struck on his first start of the season to prove Klopp does have the strength in depth to successfully shuffle his pack.

“It’s easy for me to tell them often, very often, how good they are but if they then don’t play it’s not too easy for them to always understand what I say,” said Klopp.

“But if they play and deliver like they did, it’s a very, very important sign for the whole squad.”

Leicester remain Liverpool’s closest challengers, eight points back in second, thanks to a run of eight straight wins in all competitions.

“The team is developing and are proving they have a winning mentality and mindset,” said Leicester boss Brendan Rodgers, who has dismissed speculation linking him with the vacant managerial role at Arsenal.

Next up for the in-form Foxes is a trip to Aston Villa on Sunday.

Villa are one of a host of teams hauled back into the battle to avoid relegation by Southampton’s resurgence with Dean Smith’s men just one point above the drop zone.