Say this about Mauricio Pochettino — he doesn’t think it’s going to be easy. Tottenham Hotspur may be playing at “home” in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final match against Manchester United, but according to Pochettino, Spurs’ experience playing in Wembley may not be that big of an advantage.
One of the big talking points leading into Saturday’s match has been “big match experience” — specifically, Manchester United has it while Tottenham doesn’t. Spurs famously have a seven match FA Cup semi-final losing streak heading into tomorrow, and the knock on Spurs for years now has always been that they don’t have that “it” factor that comes from experience playing and winning matches on the biggest of stages.
Poch, to his credit, thinks that’s hogwash.
“We have the belief that we can beat many teams, and we have more experience [than last year]. But I don’t believe that is going to be the key to winning the game. Sure, we have a different level of experience now and that’s always an important thing. But we need more than experience and maturity to win on Saturday.
“The most important thing is the performance. If we are able to perform in the way we performed against Real Madrid, Dortmund and Liverpool at home, I think we’re going to compete. If not – with or without experience – it’s going to be difficult.”
One only has to look at the big games Poch mentions — the 3-1 Champions League win over Real Madrid, 3-1 and 2-1 wins over Dortmund, 4-1 over Liverpool in October — to see that Spurs have their share of big results over very good teams. But Poch is also right in that talking about “experience” as the X-factor in matches like these usually glosses over the fact that in general one club is usually just flat out plays better than the other one, and that’s what Spurs need to do to beat United and advance to the FA Cup finals.
But if you’re looking for an intangible that may work in Spurs’ favor, Poch did provide one example: Tottenham’s bench.
“We try to improve every season. I’m not going to blame the players that were here before – I never complain or make excuses – but now of course we have players with good experience and good quality on the bench, and that’s going to help us,”
In last year’s FA Cup semi-final loss to Chelsea, Spurs had players like Vincent Janssen, Georges-Kevin N’Koudou, and Kevin Wimmer on the bench. And while Poch kinda throws those guys under the bus (while saying that, no, he’s not really doing that), he’s not wrong that Spurs have better bench options available this year than last. It sure does make me feel better being able to throw on Erik Lamela, Victor Wanyama, or Lucas Moura on late in the game than if it were GKN (sorry, GK).
The FA Cup kicks off tomorrow at 12:15 p.m. ET (5:15 p.m. GMT) at Wembley Stadium.