As Mauricio Pochettino ended his fourth season at Tottenham, still searching for his first trophy, the Argentine signed a new contract worth £8.5million a year.
At Chelsea, only Jose Mourinho has survived until a new campaign after failing to present a trophy to Roman Abramovich.
‘I don’t know,’ chuckled Maurizio Sarri when asked if he could keep his job for four years without winning anything. ‘I don’t think so, but I don’t know. It depends on the club and what the club want in this moment — if it’s more important to win or more important to improve the players.’
Pochettino’s favourite theme this season has been perception. Spurs are perceived to be out of form, while Chelsea are seen to be in the groove.
Eden Hazard is buzzing but Harry Kane looks worn out. Yet these London rivals nestle side by side in pursuit of the Premier League pace-setters. Hazard has seven goals and Kane has six. Tottenham have played eight of their first 12 games away from home, yet if they win at Wembley they will climb above the visitors.
The two clubs are chasing the same things but in different ways and the two managers adopt opposing stances.
Sarri is happy to concede his side are not ready to be champions. ‘There is one team above the others,’ said the Chelsea manager. ‘This is Manchester City. Then there is a very good team, Liverpool. And, for sure, they will be in the first four positions.’
His view is that Chelsea and Spurs are locked in a race with Manchester United and Arsenal for third. Pochettino begs to differ and insists his team are in the shake-up despite delays to their stadium, an absence of signings and a cluster of muscle injuries among World Cup players.
‘It is impossible to play well for 10 months,’ said the Spurs boss. Yet he concedes things are not quite as they were. ‘Remember our last season at White Hart Lane? We were unbeaten in 10 months and people said we played so well and had the best team in the Premier League.
‘It was because we created an amazing energy between the staff, players and fans and the belief was massive. We started games thinking we were going to win. Even against Man United or Chelsea, it didn’t matter. The belief was bigger than everything.
‘At the moment, that belief is not the same. We are waiting to move to the new stadium and start to build that same belief.’
The Champions League was an extra strain which did not trouble Arsenal and Chelsea, he said.
‘Of course, the Champions League is more expensive from a mental point of view,’ responded Sarri. ‘It’s difficult to play in Madrid against Real and be ready (again) after three days.
‘On the other hand, in the Europa League you have to play on Thursday and next week we play on Thursday at 8pm and at 12 on Sunday, after 64 hours. Maybe from a mental point of view we have an advantage. But from a physical point of view, no.’
Chelsea are at home to PAOK on Thursday, assured of qualification for the knockout stage, then have a home game against Fulham.
Tottenham face three games which could define their season. On Wednesday they take on Inter Milan, when anything but a win will mean a Champions League exit. Then it is Arsenal, although Pochettino hinted his team had shifted their gaze beyond their most local skirmish. ‘Chelsea, Arsenal and West Ham are the biggest rivals,’ he said. ‘But in the last few years Chelsea was always on top and it’s a good sign that our fans want more every season.
‘When you want more you look at the teams above you. After 21 or 22 years, Arsenal are below us again and that changed a bit.’
Chelsea are the benchmark in London football with five Premier League titles under Abramovich and they remain ambitious. N’Golo Kante’s new five-year contract, thought to be worth £290,000 a week, was confirmed yesterday.
The next challenge is to tie down Hazard, while Spurs’ Christian Eriksen, out of contract in 18 months, has admirers at the Bridge.
‘I like Eriksen very much,’ said Sarri. ‘He is a very smart player, a very technical player, able to play in midfield and score eight or nine goals. But I don’t want to talk about a Tottenham player.’
Maybe not so much has changed.Daily Mail