FA Cup: Huge opportunity for Maurico Pochettino's Tottenham to beat Manchester United at Wembley
Spurs, transformed into a consistent side by the Argentine manager yet lacking in trophies lately, will be playing in the relative comforts of their temporary home at Wembley
Mauricio Pochettino has had a mantra this season. The Premier League and the Uefa Champions League are the “real trophies”. He does not have to win the FA Cup, or any silverware.
"Is winning the FA Cup going to change our lives?" he asked on Thursday. “I don’t believe, I don’t believe. It would be fantastic to win a trophy and we are going to try and fight to win, but it is not about need or not need.”
Perhaps it is a way to relieve pressure ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Manchester United, perhaps a pre-emptive excuse in case Tottenham Hotspur do not triumph. It could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Certainly it feels an example of the shifting priorities in football. Pochettino has lent sustainability and longevity, but not success in the sense Spurs once understood.
Tottenham used to be synonymous with FA Cup. They were the competition’s most successful club. Not any more.
They have not reached the final in 27 years and have lost their last seven semi-finals. They lost 4-2 to Chelsea at this stage last season, even though Eden Hazard and Diego Costa began on the bench. They have no silverware since 2008, no FA Cup since 1991.
Droughts have been extended.
Pochettino is a manager who has never won a trophy. “I think that probably 25 trophies is the line that people made about a successful manager,” Jose Mourinho said in November.
Coincidentally, Mourinho has 25. There is also the sense that he has been riled by the praise Pochettino has received.
And yet, without getting the tangible rewards for success, Pochettino has been a transformative manager. He has rebranded a team noted for their inconsistency. Now Tottenham are on course to record a third consecutive top-four finish for the first time since the 1960s.
That, he has implied is more important. This, it seems, is the new “Spursy”.
Which should not disguise the opportunity that Spurs have. This is an FA Cup semi-final with a difference, played at a neutral venue that doubles up as Tottenham’s home ground for the season and where their only defeats since August have come to West Ham United, Juventus and Manchester City.
“I think now it feels with different because we are going to share the Wembley facilities with Manchester United,” Pochettino said. “During the season we own the stadium and we feel at home. It is special.”
He denied that Spurs benefit from the venue.
“I don't believe [that], because Manchester United have the experience to play at Wembley, too, and I think it is not an advantage for us or a disadvantage for them,” he explained. “I think it will be a typical cup game at Wembley, half Tottenham and half Manchester United.”
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The Tottenham half will not get to cheer on Danny Rose and Harry Winks, who have both been ruled out. Pochettino erred by fielding Son Heung-min at left wing-back in the 2017 semi-final so it is a safe assumption that Ben Davies will stand in for Rose.
It is more of an issue if Hugo Lloris, who conceded a penalty against City and could have been sent off for his foul on Raheem Sterling, takes the field after an uncharacteristically error-prone season.
Michel Vorm tends to be Pochettino’s Cup keeper, but the Argentine said: “It is a possibility but I never confirm the team before.”
However, he did spring to his captain’s defence. “For me, it wasn’t a mistake,” he said.
“No doubt for me Hugo is one of the best goalkeepers, in the past four years I can talk from the day that we met him, every season he is improving. I am so happy. We are lucky to have Hugo Lloris in goal.”
Dele Alli, Davinson Sanchez and Mousa Dembele, who were all rested for Tuesday’s draw against Brighton, are likely to get recalls. Toby Alderweireld, whose appearance at the American Express Stadium was his first Premier League start since October, is a less probable starter, although Pochettino did not rule out selecting the Belgian. He said it is an option to begin with three centre-backs.
Alderweireld is expected to leave in the summer, though his manager again kept his counsel. “I am not going to speak about rumours,” he said.
Alderweireld’s probable exit is a reason why Pochettino will reportedly have around £120 million (Dh627.2m) to spend in the summer and why defenders will figure prominently among his targets. But so, too, is the prowess in the Premier League that finances buys.
And that, he feels, is more important.
Updated: April 19, 2018 06:27 PM