Tottenham vs Liverpool preview: Spurs ready to press their case for Reds revenge
Mauricio Pochettino prepares for first "big test" as Spurs boss
Saturday 30 August 2014
At Tottenham Hotspur this week, one question caused the mood to change. Those players who were asked it quickly went from praising the new atmosphere around the team to mutedly talking about how “that day” is “the past”. The 15th of December 2013 certainly consigned Andre Villas-Boas to the past.
Liverpool’s storming 5-0 win at White Hart Lane was the final act of the Portuguese’s regime, as he was sacked the next morning. It was not the only time Brendan Rodgers’ side inflicted such a humiliation on Spurs, and Villas-Boas was not their only victim.
One story has it, that after the 4-0 at Anfield on 30 March, Liverpool had second thoughts about pursuing a deal for Jan Vertonghen. Whether that is true or not, the defeats felt hugely damaging, much more than just thrashings. Now, as Liverpool return to White Hart Lane, the hope at Tottenham is that, far from ending a manager’s reign, this fixture can properly launch Mauricio Pochettino’s new regime.
His side have played supremely in their four competitive games so far, but they have all been against lesser teams. Liverpool represent their first top-end opposition, and the first “big test”, as Pochettino puts it.
We will get to see if Tottenham have really got to grips with his philosophy as those first games suggest, or whether it was merely an illusion of easier fixtures. A home game against Liverpool could again give the team a reality check, or help show how far they’ve come.
The difference with Pochettino is that he is not exactly daunted by difficult games. In the 19 months since he first came to England with Southampton, the Argentinian has enjoyed a better record against the top four than Tottenham. He always gave the elite sides a game, and never suffered the kind of thrashings that Spurs did so often last season.
As such, they may have stumbled on to the ideal manager for their main problem, and one who is perfect for this fixture. Liverpool battered Tottenham twice last season, but Pochettino has beaten Rodgers in two of their three encounters.
Mario Balotelli should make his Liverpool debut A possible reason for this is the Argentine does not really register the status of the opposition. He sees a tactical puzzle to be solved, as with every other game. This is not a revenge mission. It’s more important.
“The past is the past,” Pochettino says. “For me, football is the present and future. Sunday is a very tough test because it’s Liverpool but, for us, it’s the same as if we’re playing [AEL] Limassol. We need to try to get the three points, make our football, play under our philosophy.”
The squad have at least bought into that attitude. “It’s not really revenge,” the Spurs winger, Andros Townsend, said. “We’re looking to go out and win the game, no matter who we’re playing. We don’t hold a grudge.
“I think in both games, here and at Anfield, we weren’t good enough on the day. They were better than us in all positions. But we’ve started well this season, we’ve got momentum, we’ve got strength in depth. Hopefully we can get the win our early form deserves.”
That form has been built on the Pochettino fundamentals, which have been a core part of training. “Everything’s about pressing, reactions when you lose the ball,” Townsend explains. “[It’s] day in, day out in training.
“It’s all about pressing high up the pitch and high tempo, defend from the front and then you get chances. That’s what we’re looking to do. Everyone’s bought into that.”
There is a danger of going gung-ho with that approach against an attack as fast as Liverpool’s, as Pochettino found out in March. Although Southampton were seen to initially have the better of that game, Rodgers’ side caught them on the break for a 3-0 win. An impressive Spurs have won both of their matches so far
“We’ll see,” Pochettino says. “It’s a very good team and fast on the offensive line. We need to be careful, to be focused and impose our philosophy.”
That challenge is heightened by the presence of three of Pochettino’s old players in the Liverpool squad: Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Dejan Lovren. It also presents a different kind of test for Pochettino himself, even if he temporarily chuckles at the mention of “Liverhampton”.
“It’s not an easy game on the emotional side because it’s against Dejan, Adam and Rickie. But, on the pitch, when the referee blows his whistle, we are enemies,” he said.
That’s quite a soundbite. Pochettino is well capable of them. Although he now speaks in a language he is still not completely comfortable with – as evidenced by how often he turns to his interpreter for the translation of a word – one phrase stood out when talking about the spirit his coaching staff try to create.
“We are special people. We showed it in Espanyol, in Southampton. We try to show it now. Special. We are special. We show it in our job, but it’s not only our job, it’s our passion. That’s the important thing.”
One specific word sounds familiar. Pochettino, however, is fully aware of the need for something different at Spurs, starting with today.
“It’s important to create excitement, ambition. Our supporters feel that.” They will also be hoping to feel very different to this fixture last season.
Tottenham v Liverpool is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 1.30pm
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