Monday is a big match for Tottenham Hotspur. Hosting Chelsea is always a game that is fraught with anticipation and nerves, but it’s especially narrative-laden this time — Monday marks the return of perhaps Tottenham’s most successful manager of the Premier League era, Mauricio Pochettino.
There’s going to be a lot of digital ink spilled about this particular reunion, especially in the wake of where the two teams are respectively — with Spurs unbeaten and top of the table, and Chelsea unusually struggling and midtable.
But first — let’s talk injuries. Ange Postecoglou, speaking in his weekly press conference, said it’s quite possible Destiny Udogie will again be rested as he attempts to recover from a knock he picked up two weeks ago against Fulham.
“Obviously a bit unusual because we’ve still got a few days, but at this stage from last week everyone got through the [Crystal Palace] game ok. Benny Davies, who came off at half-time, still has a bit of an ankle problem and hasn’t trained with the team yet so he’s touch and go.
“Destiny [Udogie] is still working his way through it - we haven’t ruled him out yet - obviously we’ve still got a few days up our sleeves. That’s probably 50-50 at this stage as to whether he’ll be available. Everyone else is ok apart from the long-term ones.”
If both Udogie and Davies can’t go that likely means another match for Emerson Royal on the left. He performed well in the win over Palace, but less well against Fulham, and Chelsea promises to be the stiffest test yet.
Ange noted that the club was given a couple extra days off this week to compensate for the short week they had previously, and that they’ve used the time to prepare for what he expects to be a physical battle.
“Yeah we’ve had a couple of days off straight after the game because we had a short turnaround Monday to Friday, so it made sense to give the lads a couple of days off and they realise when you have a couple of days off you work doubly hard when you’re in. They’ve had three fairly intensive days so it has been a good week. It’s been an opportunity for us to work on a few things physically, tactically and we’ve had a solid block of training, which is good for us. We want to try and compensate for the fact we don’t have a game in midweek because we’re obviously not in Europe or the Carabao Cup and it’s really important we keep our players as fit as possible, not just the starters. Without games in midweek, a lot of guys aren’t playing a lot and we’re going to need them, so we use that time to try and work as hard as we can in training to compensate for it.”
Back to Pochettino, Ange showed a touch of... I hesitate to use naïvete here but I’m not sure how else to describe it... when talking about Pochettino’s return to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, after a reporter referred to it as “reuniting with an ex”.
“Jeez that is a lot to take in. Thankfully those sort of days are well past me. I think your reference is to Mauricio right? Look, it is undoubted that he had an unbelievable impact on this football club. All of us in our roles, that is our ultimate goal and ambition that whatever doors we go through, we make an impact and he has had an undeniable impact on this football club in his time here. He almost took the club to the ultimate summit of the Champions League, got close to the league, so his work is unquestioned. Everyone I speak to around here, there are still people who worked with him, they can’t speak highly enough of him as a person and as a manager.
“I doubt there will be anything but respect for Mauricio from anyone at this football club, supporters or people associated, but it doesn’t mean he will get a guard of honour on Monday night because we want to win. I don’t think he would expect that, but his tenure here and impact here is undeniable and will stand the test of time. Whenever people think of Mauricio and his time here as a Spurs manager, they will only look upon it with respect and fondness.”
I’m not sure I believe that last sentence as it significantly underplays the reaction Spurs had to Pochettino returning to the Premier League with one of Spurs’ two biggest league rivals. That, for a lot of fans, is a bridge too far. I think it’s possible that he gets booed on Monday. I am certain that he’ll get plenty of stick.
Postecoglou closed by speaking about two players that are coming off of good performances at the weekend — Pape Sarr and Cuti Romero. Ange spoke to Sarr’s versatility in midfield as a young player, and Cuti’s defensive efficacy in the wake of his Premier League Player of the Month nomination this morning.
“The good thing is that [Sarr] can run and play all three [6, 8, 10 positions] at once. I think with Pape when you consider his age, it is just his ability to embrace the challenge of playing in a midfield role, particularly for us when it is quite multi-functional in terms of what’s needed from him.
“He has this great capacity, for him it’s a great strength to just run and provide energy in all different areas. I think just having him there helps because sometimes he is a six, sometimes he is an eight, sometimes he’s a 10, sometimes he’s a full-back and he does all that with ease, which is not easy to do because it does require some real energy and a really strong work ethic.
“I think as he gets more experienced he’ll refine some areas of his game. Sometimes his decision-making is a little rushed but geez, for where he’s at in his career, what’s providing for us is enormous at the moment.
“Cuti I ‘m sure was disappointed with the way his club football went last year, but he also ended up winning the World Cup. Since I’ve been here I just think he’s an outstanding defender.
“He’s a real strong personality and he has a real winner’s mindset in everything he does. For us, I think there’s great growth in our front third but I think the way the defensive side of our game has come together, when you consider Vicario has just joined the club, Micky has just joined the club, Destiny has just come across in his first year and Pedro in his second year but probably first year playing in that position.
“I think the one constant and the rock in there has been Romero with the way he has taken on the responsibility of guiding the other guys around him so they look assured. I think they feel security having him beside them. I think he’s a big part of why we’ve done so well defensively. Again there is more to come from him. He wants to improve. He works so hard every day. You need it, he’s a winner and I can see that in him with the way he trains, the way it plays so it helps from a cultural perspective as well.”
Tottenham host Chelsea this coming Monday, with kickoff at 3:00 p.m. ET / 8:00 p.m. UK. Don’t forget to change your clocks this Sunday, fellow Americans!