Marathon runners know it is better to have a sprint finish than a sprint start. As Tottenham Hotspur approach what everyone likes to call the business end of the season, they are dominant, resurgent and fighting to the last second of every match they play.
Much has been made of the brutal fitness regime their head coach, Mauricio Pochettino, has inflicted upon them since the very first moment of his arrival, and they will need it to bear positive results more than ever as they approach a critical 11 days.
In that time they must play not just Fiorentina home and away in the Europa League, but also a Premier League game against bitter rivals West Ham and the League Cup final with Chelsea. In fact, as Pochettino pointed out on Wednesday: “This is our 42nd official game tomorrow in seven months.”
Asked if this Tottenham squad was the fittest he had ever trained with, the Belgium winger Nacer Chadli replied with absolute certainty and without a moment’s hesitation: “Yes, for sure.
“The staff don’t want to kill us but they want to make us better and better. If you want to be better you have to work, if you don’t work your fitness level goes down. They know what to do to get it up.
“We do everything,” he added. “We work in the gym, we run outside and train always with intensity. If you don’t train with intensity it is totally different.”
Stories abound of Pochettino’s training methods, including making his Southampton players run over hot coals barefoot in pre-season.
For Tottenham’s part, Chadli only said: “My pre-season was not that long because of the World Cup. My pre-season was maybe two weeks, but it was two very hard weeks. I heard from the lads that it was difficult, but you need to load your body for the whole season.”
But Spurs’ impressive form may leave Pochettino with quite a conundrum. He knows that winning the Europa League now carries a Champions League place, as does fourth in the Premier League. His team have every reason to believe that either is within their grasp, but both is a lot. To win the Europa League, for example, will take another nine matches (the Champions League only seven).
“It’s a good sign we are in all competitions. I am happy,” Pochettino said. “It’s important to manage the squad and always analyse after the games each case and each player and after to be clever and select the best player to play in each game.”
Pochettino had been expecting to face Juan Cuadrado, a player he much admires, but who was bought by Chelsea from Fiorentina earlier this month, and now more than likely awaits Tottenham in the League Cup final instead.
But Fiorentina do arrive in north London with a couple of other familiar faces in their squad in the shape of on-loan Manchester City full-back Micah Richards and Chelsea winger Mohamed Salah.
So, as Tottenham get ready to face their veritable marathon of matches, it will be interesting to see if they do indeed have the lungs to sprint through them all.
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