Mauricio Pochettino will take inspiration from one of the greatest shock results of his career when he seeks to end Tottenham Hotspur’s jinx against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night.
The Tottenham manager remembers how he took his former club Espanyol to Barcelona for the derby in February 2009, only weeks after taking charge. It was his first managerial position and, when he arrived, Espanyol were at the bottom of La Liga. Barcelona, then managed by Pep Guardiola, were top. Espanyol had not tasted victory at the Camp Nou for 27 years but, playing the high pressing game that Pochettino favours, they won 2-1.
Tottenham last won at Stamford Bridge in February 1990, when Gary Lineker scored the decisive goal in a 2-1 victory, but Pochettino’s team will travel with their tails up after Sunday’s 2-1 home win over Everton. It was the best performance of his White Hart Lane tenure and there were signs that the players had got his messages. There were energy and aggression, good pressing and many tackles won in the opposition half.
“I remember the game against Barcelona; it was my third or fourth in charge at Espanyol and I had started to set a different style on the team,” Pochettino said.
“We went to press high and it was a surprise maybe [for them]. I remember that Barcelona had Messi, Henry, Yaya Touré, Eto’o, Abidal, Puyol and Xavi in the best moment and that they were surprised by our style.
“We had unbelievable players, too. I remember Iván de la Peña scored two goals. Always, you need to be lucky and it was an unbelievable memory. I had been a player at Espanyol for 11 years and it was a very special victory.”
Pochettino faces a selection dilemma up front against Chelsea as Emmanuel Adebayor trained on Tuesday after his recent problems with injury and illness. He damaged a hamstring and his back on international duty for Togo against Ghana on 19 November and missed the matches against Hull City and Partizan Belgrade. A virus ruled him out against Everton.
Adebayor is arguably the most naturally gifted of Pochettino’s strikers but he has struggled this season and he was dropped for the home defeat by Stoke City before the international break. A section of the club’s support have questioned his work rate.
Harry Kane, on the other hand, is their darling and Pochettino revealed that the young striker had run 13km during his man-of-the-match display against Everton, when he set the example for others to follow. Roberto Soldado, meanwhile, started alongside Kane and he scored his first league goal since 2 March.
It feels as though it would be difficult to drop either of them to accommodate the potential return of Adebayor but Pochettino also suggested that he had not yet decided whether to persist with two strikers.
“We have played very well with one striker, with Adebayor, against QPR, and other games, like Southampton,” he said. “Always, it depends on the opponent you have or which is your best decision. And after, we have a lot of games and you need to analyse not only the performance but also the fatigue, as we play after three days.
“Sometimes, you play with two strikers, as against Everton for example, and we say: ’Now the same.’ But we need to understand that the player maybe needs rest. There is some fatigue or a different problem and we have a lot of games ahead. Is Kane tired? Yes. He ran 13km. It is unbelievable that one striker ran 13km in one game.”
Pochettino stuck to his usual mantra when he was asked whether he might need to man-manage Adebayor, if he was fit but kept as a substitute. “For me, every player is special,” Pochettino said. “Adebayor is special, Harry Kane is special. Harry Winks [the young midfielder] is special. They are different players, sure, and you need to show respect for each player. But each player is special.”