Tottenham look to take care of own business in top-four race

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<span>Photograph: Justin Setterfield/EPA</span>
Photograph: Justin Setterfield/EPA

When Tottenham fans think about what they need from elsewhere, from the other matches between now and the end of the season to kick open the door to a fourth-placed Premier League finish, they can convince themselves that it could happen.

Chelsea must lose one and draw one of their remaining four and their run-in is difficult, taking in a trip to Manchester City on Saturday evening and a home fixture with Leicester. On top of that, West Ham and Liverpool must each draw one game.

The harder bit for Spurs would appear to be what they have to look after – namely their own form and winning their final four matches, beginning at Leeds on Saturday lunchtime. It is part of the reason why Ryan Mason, the interim manager, mentions the “immense pressure” of his job and it is surely a big ask for him to draw a perfect run from a team hugely erratic since the middle of December.

Related: Leeds v Tottenham: match preview

Mason’s strategy or his coping mechanism is to turn the focus inwards, to take the old cliché of one game at a time to its very limit. The 29-year-old is in a delicate position, unable to say very much about quite a lot, mainly because he is set to return to his old role as the head of development for the under-17s to the under-23s at the end of the season and, as such, he has no influence over what will happen at first-team level in the summer.

It is also because he does not want to risk saying the wrong thing and annoying the chairman, Daniel Levy, and so there are glorified no comments to pressing issues such as the future of Harry Kane and Gareth Bale or anything connected to the new manager.

All hypotheticals are off limits, including whether Mason could yet come to consider himself as a candidate for the permanent post if he can build on his encouraging start, which has seen him win both of his league matches – at home to Southampton and Sheffield United.

“It’s not about me, it’s about the club,” Mason says. Yet it is not about what happened at the club before his stop-gap appointment on 19 April or what will happen there next – beyond the Leeds fixture. Mason even advances his mantra as a caveat to the “amazing” step of some supporters being able to return to stadiums after 17 May. “It is hard to look forward to it because we have got a big game tomorrow,” he says.

Mason’s “mind, focus and energy” is on Leeds. “I can’t deviate from that because it is not healthy for anyone,” he adds. And, certainly, “energy” is one of his buzz words – much as it is for Mauricio Pochettino, the former Spurs manager, who pushed Mason as a player at the club before bringing him back as a youth coach.

Pochettino’s belief in what he calls universal energy, a vital force that influences everything, is well-documented and Mason appears to have absorbed a few lessons on it. What Mason is determined to do at Spurs is inject positivity and belief into everyone, to try to “create a good environment,” however tight the current parameters might be for him.

“Mauricio opened my eyes to a lot of things,” Mason says. “Energy is important and it’s important that it’s a good energy. You need to feel good, to be mentally in the right place to work and compete. It’s so important that we try and transmit this kind of feeling to each other – to our players, to the groundsmen, to the cleaners, everyone. Because when you get that feel-good energy, the running doesn’t seem as hard, the competition doesn’t seem as hard.”

Mason has told the story of how he fell asleep in his son’s bed on night four as the Spurs manager, although he is finding a better balance now.

“I feel good, I’ve got lots of energy,” he says. “There is immense pressure, which there should be. It’s a case of not enjoying it but also enjoying it because when you represent this football club, there has to be pressure. I am enjoying the moment.

“I am my own man. You have to be unique and know yourself and what you believe in otherwise the messages won’t come across organically and as real.”

Spurs’s search for a permanent successor to José Mourinho has led them to talk to Erik ten Hag only for him to sign a new contract at Ajax. There was interest in Julian Nagelsmann, who will now join Bayern Munich from RB Leipzig at the end of the season, and Brendan Rodgers, who is committed to Leicester, but Spurs believe they have other viable options on their priority list.

Meanwhile, Mason prepares for Leeds and the tactical challenge of Marcelo Bielsa. “I respect any team we come up against,” he says. “I’ve focused a lot on Leeds, I focused a lot on Sheffield United. There will always be a lot of focus on the opposition but also there has to be more focus on us because we have got some very good players. It is about how we are going to implement our style, how we are going to win. So massive respect to any team we come up against but also a lot of energy invested in us.”