LONDON — Mauricio Pochettino has been an unhappy man for much of the Premier League season.
Despite losing 1-0 to Manchester City at Wembley on Monday, the Argentine coach seemed more than content with the performance his team delivered as it could be a turning point for his disjointed Tottenham.
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Spurs huffed and puffed throughout the game and should have probably grabbed a draw against Man City, with Erik Lamela missing a huge chance late on and Harry Kane denied by some brilliant goalkeeping from Ederson in the first half.
Asked if he was happier after the defeat than he had been at any other point this season, Pochettino was clearly pleased.
“Yes. I think the performance was very good, very good,” Pochettino told Pro Soccer Talk. “Because in front of us was Manchester City. I think after nearly six years here [in England], it was the second time playing against Manchester City, playing with Southampton and Tottenham against Manchester City, that I feel so relaxed because I think we played well and we were very competitive. I think we made the opponent suffer and I think when you compare with last season where we didn’t compete against Manchester City there and here and at Wembley. Today was a game where we believed we can win. We didn’t win but the most important thing is that we translated my message and we felt it was possible to win. In the end, in football you know, there are many aspects you cannot control. But the team showed the belief.”
Spurs did force the issue against City and although the reigning Premier League champions were also guilty of missing key opportunities, there’s no doubting that they were knocked out of their usual rhythm by Spurs’ brute force. Pep Guardiola called Tottenham the “most physical” team he’s come up against and was clearly impressed with how they imposed themselves on his team and forced them to make mistakes.
With City top of the Premier League table on 26 points from their opening 10 games and Spurs now five points behind in fifth-place, is the gap growing between themselves and City?
“I said to you in the last few press conferences. We cannot compare ourselves with Manchester City. I think we are at a different level,” Pochettino admitted. “We still haven’t achieved the level of Manchester City. They won the Premier League last season and it is a team that is focusing on and trying to win titles. We are focused on different things. Not only to win games. The gap is not big but we need to respect the gap because we still didn’t achieve the level of Manchester City.”
The gap between Tottenham and the top three of Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea may have grown after Week 10 in the PL but it is clear Pochettino believes his team is moving in the right direction.
With Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli both coming off the bench after their injuries, Spurs should continue to improve offensively, which is exactly where they struggled to find fluidity against Man City. Whether or not that will help them advance in the UEFA Champions League is a tall order, but this display against City gives them hope.
The start to this season was always going to be tough for Spurs given their lack of new signings in the summer, issues with their new stadium, the majority of their squad going the distance at the World Cup and some key injuries.
Yet in defeat it seems as though they’re back on the right road and Pochettino will use the way they played against Man City as a reference point moving forward.