League Cup: Against Chelsea, Mauricio Pochettino left to look for creative solutions
Tottenham manager does not have services of the injured Harry Kane and Dele Alli not is Son Heung-min available
Mauricio Pochettino rarely needs reminders that others boast greater resources than Tottenham Hotspur. He tends to get them anyway.
Yet Spurs have a tendency to outperform rivals with bigger budgets and, as the Argentine seeks to reach a second final and win a first trophy of his managerial career, it is the task again. Chelsea stand in his way.
Tottenham boast a 1-0 lead at the half-way stage of the League Cup semi-finals. But Chelsea have home advantage on Thursday night while Spurs are depleted, shorn of firepower and, unlike their capital rivals, unable to boast a new striker.
The first leg was decided by Harry Kane. There is no Kane in the rematch, nor the injured Dele Alli, with both out until March, while Son Heung-min remains absent. Between them, they have scored 139 of Tottenham’s 208 league goals in the last three seasons, or 67 per cent.
Once again, Pochettino will have to be resourceful.
Fernando Llorente scored an own goal at Fulham on Sunday but has a solitary strike – at the right end, anyway – against top-flight opposition in a year. The forgotten man Georges-Kevin Nkoudou, who set up Harry Winks’ winner in his cameo at Fulham, may be required. At least Lucas Moura and midfielder Moussa Sissoko are available again.
The only player Pochettino will not consider is the misfit Vincent Janssen.
“Sometimes it happens,” he said. “The relationship between the club and the player doesn’t work.”
But, while he continues to make do, Tottenham need to sign. If the strategy has not changed, it has become more of a priority.
“It's so clear,” Pochettino added. “I am so open to looking to improve. I was open in the summer and I am open now, but the reality is the difficulty in bringing in someone. But we’re trying.”
But, as he spoke, Chelsea were in the process of completing a deal. Pochettino can only envy Maurizio Sarri for his ability to sign a striker with a combined 306 goals for Real Madrid, Napoli, Juventus, AC Milan and Argentina.
The only good news for Pochettino is that his compatriot needed to be registered by midday on Wednesday to play and Sarri said it was “impossible” he would be eligible.
Unlike Pochettino, Sarri is being backed in the transfer market. “I think the club agree with me when I told them my opinion about the team,” he said.
Gonzalo Higuain only scored eight times in 22 games during a troubled loan spell at AC Milan. Sarri took more solace from his past, including scoring a Serie A record 36 goals in a season for his Napoli.
“I know he has had some difficulties at the moment, but we hope he can get back to his best form,” he said. “He is a very strong striker, especially in my first season at Naples. For sure, he is one of the best strikers in my career.”
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In Higuain’s absence, Eden Hazard may have to lead the line again, though he prefers a deeper role.
“He likes to go with the ball, he wants it at the feet,” Sarri said. “For him I think it is very difficult to play as a striker and a winger. He needs to play everywhere.”
Sarri’s assessment of Hazard was instructive. “He is more an individual player than a leader,” he said.
Chelsea may need leaders. After Saturday’s defeat to Arsenal, Sarri had declared that his players were “extremely difficult to motivate”. Four days on, he tried to reframe that as constructive criticism.
“We need to discuss our problems, the first step is to accept the mistake otherwise it is impossible to improve,” he added.
“We discussed with the players how to try to improve their approach, the motivation, the determination.”
Updated: January 23, 2019 09:15 PM