The Tottenham Hotspur manager, Mauricio Pochettino, believes his team can correct the mistakes of last season and are well-equipped to push Chelsea for the Premier League title.
A year ago Tottenham emerged as the most credible challengers to Leicester but collected just two points from their final four fixtures. It was a monumental collapse that meant they finished a distant 11 points behind Claudio Ranieri’s side and even ceded second position to Arsenal.
However, their 2-0 victory at Burnley on Saturday, coupled with Chelsea’s defeat to Crystal Palace, has, according to the Argentine, injected both renewed belief into Spurs and excitement into a title race that had threatened to become a procession.
While Antonio Conte’s team have a seven-point cushion, the case for Tottenham manufacturing a successful pursuit is advanced by the remaining nine fixtures for both clubs. Pochettino’s team appear to have a marginally better run-in, with Swansea, Watford and Bournemouth on the immediate horizon. Chelsea’s assignments appear more troublesome.
Manchester City, who retain slender title aspirations of their own, arrive at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, with a trip to Old Trafford to face Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United following within the next fortnight. There is also the small matter of an FA Cup semi-final between the clubs later this month that could progress thoughts of a league and Cup Double, and administer a psychological blow in the favour of the winner.
“I think it’s important that we keep the belief and we keep up at the top, fighting,” Pochettino said. “Always I tell the players, ‘We must show we have learned from last season’ and that maybe that we are clever and intelligent people, but in football there are many things inside that you can lose or win but it is true, last season was a great experience for us.”
“What happened, happened. We will see if we have learned but it’s not fair to compare two seasons. It was a tough experience but it is a thing that, for us, we need to think [about] every time [we play] and now give our best, keep our position and fight. I think that reducing three points to Chelsea was important for us. There is a lot of work to do and we are fighting and that is the most important thing.
“We don’t need anybody to push us to be excited because it is exciting this moment that we are living now,” Pochettino added. “We now need to be clever about how we manage the players because after we’ve had the whole season it is important to play and try to give them a good rest and then know when to push them to make a big effort.
“It is an exciting moment and we are conscious about the situation. We are playing for big things; we are in the FA Cup semi-final and second in the table and I think [to be] in a better position is impossible – this is our time to be excited and give our best.”
Tottenham had meandered through the opening 45 minutes at Burnley, where they were largely frustrated by the industry of their hosts. Tactical revisions though, and a half-time redeployment which were in part enforced due to injuries to Victor Wanyama and Harry Winks, reaped dividends.
Eric Dier, who had earlier operated as part of three-man defence, seamlessly pressed forward into midfield and scored the goal which laid the foundations for what amounted to be a comfortable climax to the game, with Son Heung-min adding a second in the 77th minute.
Dier’s contribution in particular caught the eye alongside Christian Eriksen, with his versatility drawing the admiration of his manager.
“He is a very important player,” Pochettino said. “He can play centre-back or midfield or full-back and when Victor and Harry were out, we changed the system and he fitted in perfectly. He was like a third centre-half and to score was fantastic for him.
“He can play in different positions and is always key for us. Mentally, to score was important to help him to improve and this is player who is still young, who must learn a lot but that game will help him a lot.”