Leicester (UK): Tottenham’s ambitions after reaching the club’s first Champions League final and moving into a stunning new stadium were to kick on and challenge Liverpool and Manchester City for major honours this season.
However, Mauricio Pochettino admits his side need to make major improvements and learn from their mistakes just to maintain their status as Champions League regulars.
“We need to improve and I think all the players in the squad feel the same that we need to improve if we are to be a contender for big things,” said Pochettino Thursday.
Spurs travel to Leicester Saturday already seven points off Premier League leaders Liverpool having won just two of their opening six games to the season.
After blowing a 2-0 lead to draw 2-2 away to Olympiakos in their Champions League opener on Wednesday, Harry Kane bemoaned the lack of maturity from a squad that should have been hardened by the progress made during Pochettino’s five years in charge.
“We’re not young any more, we’re not inexperienced,” said the England captain. “We’ve played in big games for club and country.”
“I can see why the manager is frustrated because he’s been here for six years now and we’re still making similar mistakes to the ones we were in his first year. We’ve got to find a way to get around it, improve and get better,” he added.
‘Ready to fight’
Pochettino questioned his players’ attitude for not matching the standards of a 4-0 win against Crystal Palace last weekend on their visit to Greece in midweek.
“It’s not about tactics, it’s not about quality players, it’s about the quality of preparing yourself to be ready to fight,” said Pochettino. “At this type of level you need to match the opponent in terms of intensity, aggression, in excitement and motivation and then is going to appear your quality when you are connected with the game.”
Pochettino has often surpassed expectations during his time in charge.
He successfully guided the club through nearly two years at a temporary home at Wembley, while maintaining Spurs in the Premier League’s top four, and make progress in Europe on a shoestring budget compared to the Champions League elite.
But a return of just 19 points from Tottenham’s last 17 Premier League games shows how their progress has stalled.
Instead of looking up to challenge Liverpool or City, Spurs immediate priority is to make sure their place in the top six does not come under threat from a chasing pack, including their hosts this week.
Leicester are level with Spurs, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea on eight points from their opening five league games of the season and are confident of upsetting the ‘top six’ applecart again, three years on from their remarkable Premier League title triumph.
And while a return to European football is the Foxes’ aim, Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers hopes not having those exertions this season can help his side’s challenge for a top-six finish.
Spurs have little more than 48 hours to prepare between arriving home from Athens in the early hours of Thursday morning and a 12.30 (1130GMT) kick-off at the King Power.
“It can help, but you have to make it happen, that’s important,” said Rodgers, who knows the rigours European football well after spells at Liverpool and Celtic.
“It’s not easy, with all the travelling and the games, but they will bring a very, very top team,” he said. “They have robust players, a good squad, where they can interchange and swap players, but we’ve had a great week’s training. We’ll finish our preparation off tomorrow and we’ll be ready.”