Hiding in plain sight for most of the season, Mauricio Pochettino believes Tottenham are in position to spring a ‘surprise’ in the title race.
With Harry Kane available for the first time in five weeks at Burnley today, Spurs find themselves in the unexpectedly healthy situation of being only five points adrift of Manchester City and Liverpool, having won all four of their Premier League games in the striker’s absence.
The gap could be as small as two points by the end of the weekend, depending on Liverpool’s result at Manchester United tomorrow, and it is notable that scheduling will support Tottenham’s cause over the coming month. With the Burnley fixture included, Pochettino has the advantage of playing before Liverpool and City in three of the next four rounds of matches, the benefit of which was demonstrated in Leicester’s favour on the run-in during 2016, when Spurs often went second and crumbled amid the pressure.
This weekend has been identified as ‘massive’ by Pochettino, who sees significant merit in Spurs drawing less attention in the title race compared to the year they were chasing Leicester. ‘In 2016 we were in a very good position,’ he said. ‘But the feeling was that we were there and we said, “Oh, why are we there being a contender when the plan wasn’t to be a contender?” It was because all the other teams that should have been a contender failed. And then the pressure was about winning the title.
‘I think it’s different this season. After a few years being there in the top four I think no one talked too much about us.
‘But we are there. If we are capable of believing that we can push at the last moment and keep pushing and winning games, maybe we can surprise everyone.’
The warning from Pochettino to his squad, one that he repeated multiple times, was to avoid complacency against Burnley, with more glamorous fixtures against Chelsea, Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund to follow.
He said: ‘The most important thing for us is to believe that the next game is the most important.
‘For Burnley I need to be more motivated and with more energy than in other games. We need to believe that the three points against Burnley will be decisive.
‘If we don’t think this way and we go to Burnley thinking, “OK, the important game is Chelsea or Arsenal”, then we are going to struggle. And then we are going to regret it. Saturday is the most important game in the period we have ahead.
‘It could be a massive weekend. The football this weekend is like a final for us at Burnley. It’s going to be key in the future of the competition, the Premier League. It’s a massive three points.’Daily Mail