LONDON: Tottenham are sitting pretty in the Premier League but face a potentially season-defining match against Barcelona in the Champions League today. Mauricio Pochettino’s men have amassed 36 points from 16 Premier League matches, with 12 wins, leaving them in third place behind Liverpool and Manchester City.
That they have managed that despite playing in their temporary home of Wembley and after a World Cup in which so many of their players featured until the final weekend, makes their achievement all the more impressive.
However, with City and Liverpool in such rampant form, few expect Spurs to win the Premier League, putting increased emphasis on their match against the Spanish league leaders in Group B.
Pochettino must somehow find a way past Lionel Messi’s Barcelona to reach the knockout stages but he remains positive ahead of the daunting trip to the Camp Nou to face the five-time European champions.
“It will be a massive game. They have qualified for the next stage but in the Champions League no one is going to give a present,” said the Argentine, who left Harry Kane out of the starting line-up for the 2-0 win away to Leicester on Saturday.
“We need to win and deserve to win. The mentality is going to be 200 percent to try to win. We are going to arrive in the best condition, Barcelona are one of the best teams in Europe.” Spurs took just one point from their first three games in Group B, losing to Inter Milan and Barcelona and drawing with PSV.
But they beat PSV at home and then scored late through Christian Eriksen to beat Inter 1-0 at Wembley, leaving them in second place on seven points, the same as the Italians.
With Barcelona already guaranteed to top the group, Spurs must match Inter’s result to guarantee progress. Pochettino has in the past talked about how only the Premier League or Champions League title will take the club to the “next level”, even though the trophy cabinet has been empty since 2008.
Spurs have played in the Champions League for the past three seasons but they cannot boast the pedigree or history of Manchester United or Liverpool in Europe’s top club competition.
They have only progressed beyond the Champions League group stage twice, reaching the quarter-finals in 2011.
Barcelona, who beat Spurs 4-2 at Wembley, have already made sure of winning their Champions League group for a record 12th successive season. Dauntingly for Spurs, Barca are unbeaten in 28 Champions League home matches and the Londoners will not be encouraged by the fact that the Spaniards have only lost two home matches in 33 against English opponents.
But Spurs themselves, with a vibrant collection of attacking players including Kane, Eriksen, Dele Alli and Son Heung-min, have won eight out of their past nine fixtures in all competitions and will be hoping that Ernesto Valverde’s side take their foot off the gas.
Beating the Catalan club would be particularly sweet for Pochettino, a former player and coach at Barcelona’s city rivals Espanyol. The Argentine earned his first win as a manager in a derby at the Camp Nou in 2009.
“Espanyol were bottom and Barcelona were top,” he recalled. “All the people were saying Espanyol were dead and had no chance. It was a special victory and an unbelievable memory.” – AFP