Tottenham’s Champions League dead-rubber against Apoel Nicosia should have been a pressure-free celebration of the club’s progress in Europe, but their dismal domestic form leaves Mauricio Pochettino facing a delicate balancing act at Wembley.
On the one hand, the Spurs manager has acknowledged that his star players need “to breathe”, and he will rest Hugo Lloris, Kieran Trippier, Eric Dier, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane, while Toby Alderweireld (hamstring), Victor Wanyama (knee) and fit-again Erik Lamela (ineligible) are unavailable.
On the other hand, Pochettino is determined to use tonight’s match to arrest Tottenham’s alarming slump and “build momentum” ahead of the crucial home games against Stoke and Brighton, before the ominous trip to Manchester City on December 16.
Spurs’ hopes of beating City to the title have evaporated amid a run of one win in six league games, leaving them closer to bottom club Swansea than the runaway leaders.
They have already topped their Champions League group after beating Real Madrid at Wembley, drawing in the Bernabeu and taking all six points against Borussia Dortmund. But, with confidence low, they can scarcely afford another poor result now, even if there is little at stake this evening.
“We need to take the game seriously. It is important to win, finish well in the Champions League and build the momentum,” Pochettino said.
“We deserve to finish first [in our group]. But the team deserves to build momentum and we can only do that by winning games.”
Pochettino has therefore resisted the temptation to flood his squad with youngsters. Midfielder Luke Amos, 20, and teenage forward Kazaiah Sterling, who have been rewarded for good behaviour, are the only fresh faces expected in the 18-man squad.
Dele Alli, a certain starter, should be joined in the XI by Michel Vorm, Juan Foyth, Serge Aurier, Georges-Kevin N’Koudou and Fernando Llorente – and Pochettino has called on his fringe players to prove themselves.
“Some players need to rest because they are so tired and need to breathe. It is a great opportunity [for the others] to show to the gaffer and show the fans they can be more regular in the starting XI,” he said.
Harry Winks, a likely starter, also acknowledged the need to win a game that might, in different circumstances, have been meaningless.
“I certainly wouldn’t say the pressure is off,” Winks said. “We’ve got a lot of pressure on us at the moment to get results. We’ll try to get another win to get as many points as possible in our Champions League group and hopefully kick-start a winning run.”
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