Mauricio Pochettino told his Tottenham players that they have no hope of being “realistic contenders” to win anything this year if they keep playing as they have been, after leaving Kieran Trippier and Toby Alderweireld at home for Tuesday’s Champions League at Inter Milan.
Speaking at San Siro on Monday evening, Pochettino repeatedly insisted it was a “technical decision” to not bring the two first-teamers, both of whom played in Spurs two disappointing 2-1 defeats to Watford and Liverpool this month. Those two games are still on Pochettino’s mind, and the reason why he told his players they have to improve, and fast. If Spurs lose again at Inter it will the first run of three straight defeats during his Tottenham tenure.
This already feels like a key moment in the season and Pochettino needs to spark a reaction and an improvement out of his team. He has been hard on them in public recently and here he told them that their Champions League experience, going out to Juventus in the last-16 last season, was meaningless if they continued to make the same mistakes.
Pochettino hammered his players after the Watford defeat for treating it like a friendly, but they still lost to Liverpool on Saturday. So on Sunday he told them again that they needed to sharpen up and improve if they wanted to achieve anything this season. Although with only five games gone so far, he still believes that there is plenty of time left for a good season if they understand these two defeats as a wake-up call.
“We are not realistic contenders in any single competition, that is my view,” Pochettino said. “If we show the same face as against Watford, it is impossible to be a contender. If we show the face as against Liverpool, so difficult. In some periods of the game against Manchester United, maybe yes. I explained after Old Trafford, it was so difficult to keep the feet on the grass. We needed to work harder, be more competitive and improve. The last two defeats are so good if the effect is to wake up and improve.. We have time to improve, we are at the beginning of the season. We need to start to build again our best. And to start to show we deserve to be a contender at the end, we need to be consistent during the whole season.”
Pochettino denied that he was “challenging [the] players”, but there was a clear warning to them that more poor performances will lead to an unfulfilling season. “If want to be real contenders, we need to improve a lot, a lot. When you win three games in a row, and you go to Watford and Liverpool, and are not capable to win, it is so difficult to talk about being a realistic contender.”
Trippier and Alderweireld were both disappointing in the Liverpool defeat on Saturday, and Pochettino picked out the under-performance of the experienced back four in his post-match comments that afternoon. Those two have been left in London after what Pochettino would only describe as a “technical decision”. He insisted they had not been dropped as punishment for poor performance. “I never punish players because you win or lose,” he said. “The plan is to use different players tomorrow. There is nothing behind it because of the decision. Only that we will play with different players.”
Pochettino also told Tottenham tonight that they must be intelligent enough to use the experience gained from two Champions League seasons, rather than just repeating the same mistakes. Using the analogy of a cow who stands by a railway while never actually learning when the train passes by, Pochettino said that experience was meaningless unless it can be learned from. Can Tottenham learn when the train will go by? Or will they stand in the track and get hit by it again?
“Our experience is experience, but you need to apply the experience, plus the hunger, plus your own motivation, plus being clever and learning. If you are not clever this is only experience, it is not going to help you in the future. It’s like a cow that every single day, for 10 years, sees the train crossing in the front at the same time. And if you ask the cow ‘what time is the train going to come?’, it’s not going have the right answer. In football it’s the same.”
“Experience, yes, of course. But hunger, motivation, circumstance, everything is so important. We talk too much that ‘the experience is going to help next season’. Yes of course, if you show the same hunger, the same motivation, if you fight in the same way. If only with experience, you don’t win games.”
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