Mauricio Pochettino has kicked off the "mind games" early in the build-up to Tottenham’s FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea by labelling Antonio Conte’s men the favourites.
Despite the fact Spurs go into Saturday’s game at Wembley with the momentum after cutting Chelsea’s lead at the top of the Premier League table to four points, Pochettino has claimed his side remain underdogs.
Pochettino is waiting to lift his first trophy as a manager, while the Tottenham squad have only a handful of winners’ medals between them.
That is in contrast to a Chelsea team who have won numerous trophies at club and international level, and are managed by Conte, who won three Serie A titles while in charge of Juventus.
“If there’s a favourite it’s Chelsea, top of the Premier League, with experienced players and the manager they have,” said Tottenham manager Pochettino. “We are talking about the team who in the past five years won European competitions, World Cups, a manager who won the title in Italy, they’re more experienced.
“But we’re in a good moment too. We’re hungry and to challenge this team is important for Tottenham. We will see, but it’s important to enjoy the game. We must feel the happiness. It’s a very important competition and we are fighting the best team in England.”
Despite the fact the winner of Saturday’s game will still have to face either Manchester City or Arsenal to lift the Cup, Pochettino has called the match against Chelsea “a final.”
“Saturday is a semi-final in the Cup, but it’s a final because if you don’t win you go home and forget it,” said Pochettino. “We must show it’s a final from the first moment, being aggressive and trying to play under our philosophy and mentality and compete. To have the opportunity to play a semi-final against one of the best teams in Europe, it doesn’t happen often. It’s very exciting.”
Tottenham fell apart during last season’s run-in, when they were competing for the title with Leicester City, but Pochettino is confident they can now last the pace with Chelsea in both the FA Cup and the Premier League.
“We are showing we learned from last season and if we only see the data we improved a lot,” said Pochettino. “With six games to play, we achieved 71 points when last season we finished with 70. We improved, that’s a reality.
“The team is playing in a good way, exciting football, scoring goals, conceding not too much. We are in a great moment. That is most important. Now is the moment to translate those statistics and that feeling, and show if you’ve grown up and learned or if you’re very close to winning the League or the FA Cup. That’s the most difficult step to achieve.”
Tottenham’s superb season has attracted interest from rival clubs, with Manchester United preparing a summer bid for Eric Dier and Inter Milan linked with a move for Toby Alderweireld.
“The players that will leave is always the decision of the club. All the players have contracts for the next two or three years minimum and we are not worried. I invite the clubs who want players from Tottenham to visit the training ground and meet our chairman.”