Tottenham Hotspur are flying high, winners of eight straight league matches, and have outscored their opponents 22-4 during that stretch. Chelsea, after blitzing through most of the season, have dropped two of their last four matches including a 2-0 road loss to Manchester United last weekend, and their once unassailable position at the top of the table has dwindled to four points.
To many observers, Spurs might enter into Saturday’s FA Cup semifinal match against the Blues at Wembley Stadium as having the best chance to make it to the finals. Not according to Mauricio Pochettino, who said in a press conference ahead of this weekend’s tie that Chelsea should be considered the favorites, and Spurs will do well to beat them.
“We are talking the team in the last five years won European competitions, World Cups, and a manager who won the title in Italy. They’re more experienced.
But we’re in a good moment too. We’re hungry and to challenge this team is important for Tottenham. We will see but important to enjoy the game. We must feel the happiness. It’s a very important competition and we are fighting the best team in England.”
So this is probably a smart move by Pochettino to try and take a little pressure off his team. On form and results, Spurs have the best team in England since the start of 2017, but Chelsea are a formidable side. Combine that with the breathless exhortations coming from the English football media that are almost demanding that Tottenham win something this year or be labelled “bottlers” again, and that’s a lot of stupid, unneeded pressure on a young team.
Not that Tottenham’s players aren’t aware of the gravity of this cup semifinal. I honestly think Poch is selling his team a mite short in his comments, but I can certainly understand why he’d like to take the edge off the narrative. Spurs seem to do better when they’re flying under the radar.
Winning things is hard, especially when you’re a young club with a history of crushing disappointment that hasn’t lifted a trophy since 2008 and finished third in a two-horse title race last season. But Poch is good with the media, and trying to reframe the narrative to make it underdog Spurs vs. big bad Chelsea is probably a good play.
But pushing that boulder over the hill has always been the goal, and this is the closest that Spurs have come yet to actually making Sisyphus happy. Pochettino seems to realize that too.
“It’s nice to say we are ready and we want to win, but it’s not an easy task. It is difficult to win trophies. Three years ago when we signed here it was all about how we can reduce the gap with the top four, that was the main problem Tottenham had. Not only have we reduced the gap but we are fighting for the Premier League, to win titles. That’s the position we wanted and we achieved that.
“To win is more difficult. First you have to be there and challenge, we have the opportunity to challenge. It’s up to us to step up and make the dream a reality. We must show it’s a final from the first moment, being aggressive and trying to play under our philosophy and mentality and competing. To have the opportunity to play against one of the best teams in Europe, it doesn’t happen often. It’s very exciting.”