Tottenham and Manchester City begin their UEFA Champions League knockout rounds on Tuesday, with Spurs heading to Juventus and Man City at Basel.
[ MORE: JPW’s UCL last 16 predictions ]
Both Mauricio Pochettino and Pep Guardiola have been speaking about the importance of getting their UCL knockout stages off to the perfect start.
Speaking in Turin ahead of Spurs’ clash with Italian champions and last seasons’ runners up Juve, Pochettino revealed that his side will go all out for victory in the first leg in Italy.
“We are going to be brave, we are going to try to win,” Pochettino said. “We need to play with freedom and clear ideas. It’s a game we must enjoy.”
With Spurs top of the form table in the Premier League over the past six games, Harry Kane in superb goalscoring form and the likes of Dele Alli, Heung-Min Son and Christian Eriksen back to their best, it’s no wonder that Pochettino is feeling confident.
Most Spurs fans would take a draw or even a one-goal loss away at Juve in the first leg but given that this is an ageing Juventus side, it seems like a winnable tie for Tottenham.
In team news Toby Alderweireld was left at home by Pochettino as the Belgian continues to recover from a long-term hamstring injury. The Belgian defender was fit enough to start last week in the FA Cup replay win against Newport County, and declared himself fit to play against Arsenal in the north London, but Pochettino left him out of the win against the Gunners and explained why.
“He is 28 and it was a massive injury that we need to care about, because we could not put at risk his career,” Pochettino said. “We designed a plan to try to provide him with the best tools to recover as soon as possible and be stronger than before. In that period that he started to work with the team, under our judgement, he needs to build his fitness slowly. He needs to work hard. To play this type of game (against Juventus) you need to be 200 per cent.
“It’s not the same as training to compete, and that’s why we are caring about him with our plan, to try for him in to be at a high level of condition again, (and) can be competing for one place in the starting eleven. That is always what we try to do with different players. Of course we are sorry for him because when you miss some games like Arsenal or the Champions League, and we work a lot to play this type of game, I can understand that (he is frustrated). We are frustrated too because, when you cannot play, it is difficult to accept.”
As for Guardiola and Man City, their focus is not only on getting by Swiss champs Basel but being crowned European champs.
The Premier League’s runaway leaders are the bookies favorites to win the UCL, but Guardiola is understandably cautious as they head into the latter stages of a tournament they’ve slipped up in many times before.
“I don’t know,” Guardiola said when asked if they will win the Champions League. “Our target is to do better than last season. The teams are so clinical and we have to be. Basel have shown good performances in the group stage. They are good opponents. We will have difficulties here.”
Skipper Vincent Kompany, who reached the UEFA Champions League semifinals with City in 2015-16 under Manuel Pellegrini, believes that City now feel as if they belong among Europe’s elite.
“If there is a year, a moment when the club is ready to feel at home, then it’s now,” Kompany said.
City have Leroy Sane back in their squad after he made a quick recovery from the horror tackle he suffered at Cardiff City in the FA Cup last month, but Gabriel Jesus and Benjamin Mendy remain out injured and David Silva could be a doubt.