Harry Winks

Pochettino: ‘We have two finals’

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Mauricio Pochettino spoke defiantly after his nine-man Tottenham side lost 1-0 at Bournemouth on Saturday to set up a nervous finish to the season.

Heung-Min Son and Juan Foyth were both shown straight red cards in the space of five minutes and Spurs had to play close to 45 minutes with just nine men.

Despite their unbelievable lack of discipline Tottenham almost held on for a crucial point in their top four battle, but Nathan Ake‘s 91st minute header sealed their sixth-straight PL away defeat.

“It is painful to play without two players. We need to move on. We cannot change the decisions. We have ahead two finals. It is in our hands,” Pochettino told the BBC. “If it does not happen we will be proud because nobody expected Tottenham to be in the position they are today.”

That “not one believed in us” theme continued in Pochettino’s post-game comments, as he must now pick up his players for a huge UEFA Champions League semifinal second leg at Ajax on Wednesday.

Spurs head to Amsterdam trailing 1-0 from the first leg, and with injuries piling up and Tottenham winning just four of their last 15 games in all competitions, yet another fine season is threatening to end on a sour note.

“No one believed in Tottenham to be in this position in the last week of the competition. What happens will happen and I will feel proud,” Pochettino said. “We are fighting six teams, it is impossible for all six to get the top four, whatever happens I will feel proud and whatever happens in the semifinal I will be proud.”

Pochettino is probably right, but it wouldn’t make it hurt any less if Spurs somehow finished outside of the top four and lost to Ajax in the UCL semifinal on Wednesday.

In the PL they are four points ahead of fifth-place Arsenal, with the Gunners having a game in hand. If they win that against Brighton on Sunday, they will be one point behind Spurs going into the final game and Arsenal have to travel to Burnley. Man United aren’t out of the equation now too, as two wins in their final two games and a Spurs defeat would see them finish above Tottenham.

All of a sudden the tension levels at Spurs have been cranked up a few notches.

Pochettino is right. They have two finals. But the main problem is, they will be without Harry Kane and Harry Winks for both of those games, while Son can’t play in the PL season finale against Everton and the status of Jan Vertonghen is unknown.

This poor run of form to finish the season points to one thing: Tottenham’s squad is not big enough and their key players have run out of steam.

Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Lucas Moura looked shattered in the final moments of their defeat at Bournemouth and the last thing they needed was to play close to a half down two men.

But the equation is clear for Spurs. Beat in-form Everton at home on the final day and they will finish in the top four and qualify for the Champions League. After no new signings, their stadium delay and injuries to Kane and others throughout this campaign, making the top four would be a huge achievement, whatever happens at Ajax next week.

Premier League Preview: Bournemouth v. Tottenham

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  • Spurs (still) lead the top-three race, somehow
  • Cherries sit 14th, safe from relegation
  • Spurs won 5-0 at Wembley back in December

Tottenham Hotspur continue to lead the top-three and -four race that seemingly no one — not even them — wants to win. Yet, Mauricio Pochettino‘s side has two more chances to secure Champions League qualification by a very straightforward formula: they need just three points, beginning when they visit 14th-place Bournemouth on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com).

With Chelsea (68 points) just two points back in fourth and Arsenal (66) trailing by four, it’s Tottenham’s place to lose. To be certain, they have tried to do so again and again, only to see their London rivals falter immediately thereafter. Take, for instance, last weekend: Spurs lost to West Ham, but Chelsea drew Manchester United and Arsenal were hammered 3-0 by Leicester City. It’s been that kind of month for top-six sides not named Manchester City or Liverpool.

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

As for the Cherries, they’re long since clear of the relegation zone and have very little left to play for, and it’s looked that way in recent outings. Eddie Howe‘s men have picked up just nine points from their last 12 games (2W-3D-7L), though they are on something of an upswing with four of the nine points coming in their last three games.

Injuries

Bournemouth OUT: Lewis Cook (knee), Junior Stanislas (hamstring), Simon Francis (knee), Charlie Daniels (knee), Andrew Surman (calf), Diego Rico (ankle) | Spurs — OUT: Harry Kane (ankle), Harry Winks (groin), Erik Lamela (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: Jan Vertonghen (head)

What they’re saying

Howe, on Bournemouth’s need for continued progression: “People will use ‘established.’ I don’t know if we have ever used that word. For us, it’s not a useful thing to look at, you can then get complacent and lazy,” he said at a press conference. “For us it is about having to prove we deserve to be here first and foremost every season, so that means starting the campaign with a really good mentality to go to achieve and progress.”

Pochettino, on Spurs’ performance this season: “I always remember the first meeting that we had all together, when the World Cup players arrived, and we said, ‘We all start from zero. It’s going to be a difficult season and we need to be open to improve and to fight.’ We’ve always built some spirit inside the dressing room to fight against the reality. It was tough but in the end we are in a very good position. We feel very proud.”

Prediction

Spurs have fared remarkably well against Bournemouth (6W-1D-0L since the Cherries were promoted in 2015), as has Son Heung-min on an individual level (four goals in the last two meetings). It’s all setting up for Spurs to secure a top-four place on Saturday and free their minds for Wednesday’s trip to Amsterdam for the second leg of the Champions League semifinals.

Fans who want to try their hand at predicting PL games can down the NBC Sports Predictor app, with a chance to win up to $50,000 each week. Download it on iOS or Google Play.

UCL Live: Spurs meets Ajax in fascinating semifinal first leg

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For the first Champions League match held in the new stadium, the win over Manchester City was something to savor. It was hyped up, it was loud, and Spurs won a famous victory.

For the second match held in the new stadium, the stakes are even higher.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

Tottenham vies for its first-ever place in the Champions League final as it begins a two-leg adventure against Dutch side Ajax in London. Both sides are as battle tested as they come, with Ajax having downed Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus plus defending champions Real Madrid, and Spurs knocking off Premier League powerhouse Manchester City.

While Ajax is on a dream run featuring young future stars like Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong, Tottenham comes into this match as potential underdogs thanks to the brutal list of unavailable players. With Harry Kane likely done for most – if not all – of the season, behind him in-form striker Heung-Min Son is suspended due to yellow card accumulation, leaving Fernando Llorente up front. Dele Alli is fit to start in midfield, while Moussa Sissoko only returns from his groin injury with a place on the bench. A banged up Jan Vertonghen recovers enough for a spot in the starting lineup, while Erik Lamela does not appear in the squad while still recovering from his hamstring injury. Harry Winks and Serge Aurier also miss out with fitness problems.

Mauricio Pochettino opts for a three-CB system with Davinson Sanchez, Toby Alderweireld, and Vertonghen all in the lineup, utilizing Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier as wing-backs to provide superior width against an Ajax side whose one weakness has been the performance of their full-backs. Look for Alli and Lucas Moura to press the Ajax midfielders hard to win the ball back.

LINEUPS

Tottenham: Lloris; Sanchez, Alderweireld, Vertonghen; Trippier, Wanyama, Alli, Rose; Eriksen; Moura, Llorente.
Bench: Gazzaniga, Dier, Walker-Peters, Sissoko, Foyth, Davies, Skipp.

Ajax: Onana; Veltman, de Ligt, Blind, Tagliafico; Schone, De Jong, van de Beek; Ziyech, Tadic, Neres.
Bench: Varela, Sinkgraven, Huntelaar, Mazraoui, Magallan, Dolberg, de Wit.

Champions League Tuesday Preview: Tottenham v. Ajax

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Tottenham fans couldn’t be blamed for thinking it was a favorite to advance to the UEFA Champions League final in the minutes after their away goals rule win in a 4-4 aggregate draw with Manchester City.

Two weeks later, it’s a different story.

Fatigue and injuries have left Tottenham with a shell of a team, with just one win, scraping past Brighton and Hove Albion, and little momentum heading into a monumental matchup with an Ajax team high on confidence. Tottenham have no Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son, Harry Winks or Erik Lamela, and even Jan Vertonghen and Moussa Sissoko are injury doubts.

[READ: Man United announces Bailly out for season]

But that doesn’t take into account what Tottenham do have. By not making any signings, this is as tight-knit a group as the Premier League has seen in many, many years. Plus, in manager Mauricio Pochettino, there’s a unique tactician who combines great x’s and o’s with excellent man management, always getting the best out of his players in the key moments of the match.

Even without some stars and coming off a rough 1-0 loss to West Ham at home, Tottenham’s players will be confident facing Ajax, only because they are always a confident bunch. It will be a reminder of where he came from for Davinson Sanchez, who spent one successful season at Ajax, helping them to the Europa League final before heading to England, and Christian Eriksen, another Ajax alum (along with Toby Alderweireld and Vertonghen) will have a big task ahead of him with Frenkie de Jong running the show for Ajax.

Tottenham’s mission is simple, but it’s one that flummoxed Real Madrid and Juventus so far: How to neutralize Dusan Tadic up the middle and then negate de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt. Whoever of Fernando Llorente or Dele Alli will have to not only occupy de Ligt, but also pull him out of position, opening spaces for Tottenham’s wing backs to exploit on late runs.

Meanwhile, Eriksen or Alli are going to have a busy day keeping tabs on de John, trying to limit his touches, while Alderweireld and Sanchez will have to be quick to pick up Tadic when he drops into space.

Tottenham will have to do all of this on shorter rest, with a shorter bench and less recent confidence than Ajax. But maybe that’s exactly where Pochettino wants his opponents.

“It’s going to be a magical night because to play the semifinals in our new stadium is something that no one could believe or think a few months ago,” Pochettino said in his pre-match press conference Monday. “It’s a game that is impossible to be tired for, not to be excited to play. It’s all mental.

“The energy is going to be there. It’s two legs – tomorrow we are going to play the first half of the game and the second is going to be at Ajax. It’s so important how we approach the game and how we handle the game during 90 minutes.”

Watch Live: Tottenham v. West Ham

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Tottenham host West Ham United on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as Mauricio Pochettino‘s men aim to take another huge stride towards a top four finish with a big London derby win.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Ahead of their UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg against Ajax on Tuesday, Spurs have a four point cushion ahead of Arsenal who sit in fifth place. West Ham sit in 11th and must win all three of their remaining games to have any chance of finishing seventh.

In team news Spurs are without Jan Vertonghen who has picked up a small injury. Juan Foyth starts at right wing back again in a 3-4-2-1 formation. Moussa Sissoko and Harry Winks aren’t fit enough to make the Spurs squad.

West Ham start Marko Arnautovic up top, while Javier Hernandez is fit enough to be on the bench as Issa Diop and Ryan Fredericks come into the back four.

LINEUPS