Mauricio Pochettino is preparing for “the biggest ever match” of his managerial career as his Tottenham Hotspur side bid to put a dent in Manchester City’s hopes of a trophy clean sweep.
Pocchetino will hope Spurs can do what Liverpool did in their first leg Champions League quarter-final against Pep Guardiola-managed City last year and establish a commanding lead to take to Manchester.
On the face of it, Pochettino and his weary players — many who had long World Cup campaigns and returned to a club that made no signings to bolster the squad — face a mammoth task to rescue another season that threatens, after many promises, to end without a trophy.
Spurs fans have got accustomed to it — just one trophy this century, the 2008 League Cup, is not reflective of a ‘big six’ club — and Pocchetino for all the positive headlines he has garnered needs a maiden trophy to gild that lily.
In his defence, the charismatic 47-year-old Argentinian cut his teeth at Barcelona’s barely noisy neighbours Espanyol and then at Southampton, better known for being a breeding ground for players to move on to bigger clubs.
As if Pochettino did not have enough pressure the board will be expecting that he also delivers Champions League football for next season — empty seats for a Europa League campaign is not what they were bargaining for when they financed their new state-of-the-art stadium.
“Is it the biggest (match of my career)? Yes, as a coach yes,” said Pochettino.
Pochettino has crossed swords with Guardiola — who despite all his domestic trophy success has not won the Champions League since 2011 — on many an occasion and the Argentine came off the better for once when the clubs last met at the old White Hart Lane.
– ‘We are aggressive’ –
Guardiola has also conceded a Spurs side he once branded as being over-reliant on Harry Kane is much more rounded with the likes of Dele Alli, Korean star Son Heung-min and Christian Eriksen providing a threat comparable to the England captain.
“They (City) know and he (Guardiola) knows that we’re brave playing football, we like to go forward and be aggressive, to be protagonists,” said Pochettino.
“But the most important thing is that we are aggressive.”
Spur’s attractive style of play has led to Pochettino being linked with moves to Manchester United and Real Madrid.
However, both vacancies have been filled — Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s unexpected success as interim manager at United earning him the full-time post and the surprise recall of Zinedine Zidane to Real closing off that alley — but a victory over City would restore some lustre to his reputation.
Tottenham’s well-documented habit of closing down mentally when they get in sight of finals or indeed the title suggests the City game is also their biggest in terms of banishing their image as ‘chokers’.
Being the club that denies City the quadruple — Guardiola even talks of a quintuple due to the lightly regarded Community Shield win at the outset of the season — would add extra cachet.