Tottenham Hotspur are not looking past Newport County. That’s the message from Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino, who is taking a banged-up squad to south Wales on Saturday for an FA Cup Fourth Round tie at Rodney Parade.
In a pre-match press conference in which he addressed a number of different topics, Pochettino was clear that, despite a squad with numerous recovering players, and a match at a small stadium that hosts an association rugby match today, Spurs are treating the preparation for this match the way they would a Champions League game.
“Everyone expects to see Tottenham fail, only our fans and us expect to win. It’s not because people are against us, it’s because of the magic of the competition, that is the FA Cup. We need to be ready and be aware that we need to compete and be at the same level as them with motivation and aggression and adapt our game in a difficult stadium and pitch. That is how we need to take the game...
“[We have to] be ready to fight. Put ourselves in the same level as them, same motivation. No complain, no find excuse, try to believe we’re going to play against Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or Juventus in the Champions League. If we have the same motivation, some focus, same motivation, we can show our quality. if we’re not ready to compete from the beginning, we’re going to struggle.”
The FA Cup is notorious for producing historic upsets when top clubs and minnows collide (this is the oft-repeated “magic of the Cup”, especially when the draw puts the giants at the home of the little guys. Already this match is focusing on the state of the pitch, which considering it gets used for both rugby and football matches in the same week, is likely to be pretty not-great.
Poch rightfully isn’t conceding that as anything close to an excuse. That’s not his way. It’s extremely rare that you hear Poch put the blame for an on-pitch miscue anywhere but himself and the team as a collective, and he almost never throws individual players under the bus. Instead, he is acknowledging the challenges that a Premier League side faces away at a League Two club, and promising that Spurs will fight through them.
“They are playing a rugby match today. It is not an easy pitch but it is not to complain about the pitch. That it is not an easy pitch, it’s not to complain or to blame the pitch. Sunday at Southampton, it was impossible to play football. We will not complain. It will be tough, it’s not about going there and thinking just because we are Tottenham we are going to win. That is important. We need to show massive respective to the opponent. In my mind, it’s not a League Two team. It’s our opponent, I don’t care about their level. We need to give our best or we’re going to have a massive problem there...
“Football is always hard to play. If you are going to say you are going to play tomorrow against a Premier League team, you’d say why not against a League One or League Two team. But always it’s hard. For me it’s about how hard you prepare yourself to compete. That is key. If we are ready to compete I think it’s not a problem because we will be competitive and we have the quality to win games. The problem is when you are not ready to compete.”
For this reason, I suspect that Pochettino will put out a decently strong squad to face Newport. Certainly he will rotate his players, especially with a mid-week match against Manchester United looming next Wednesday. But it would not surprise anyone if established first team regulars like Harry Kane, Dele Alli, and Son Heung-Min all start or play significant minutes. Pochettino, to his credit, appears to be taking this cup competition seriously.