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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 16 February 2019

Tottenham v Dortmund: Spurs keep punching above their weight in England and in Europe

Pochettino's side are third in the Premier League and in the knockout stages of the Champions League for a third straight season

Mauricio Pochettino, right, has seen Tottenham Hotspur become perennial qualifier for the Champions League during his four-and-a-half years at the club. AFP
Mauricio Pochettino, right, has seen Tottenham Hotspur become perennial qualifier for the Champions League during his four-and-a-half years at the club. AFP

If the first achievement is to progress, the second is to sustain a brand of success. Mauricio Pochettino’s lack of trophies is often referenced but, in another sense, he is no one-hit wonder. Tottenham Hotspur are on course for a fourth consecutive top-four finish. They are in their third successive year among the European elite. For the second time in a row, they are in the knockout stages. The aim now is to go one further.

“It’s to try to be closer in the future to winning,” Pochettino said. “It will be tough. If you are honest with yourself with what Tottenham are doing in the last few years, I think it’s fantastic from the top to the bottom. The Champions League for a third year in a row is a bonus. To be in the last 16 is a bonus.”

Tottenham were eliminated at this stage by Juventus last season. Now they face Borussia Dortmund. After falling to the nous of one of the competition’s oldest and savviest sides, they have a reunion with one of the youngest and most vibrant. They beat Dortmund home and away in the group stages last season, though Harry Kane, who scored in both fixtures, is sidelined as the Bundesliga leaders look for revenge.

“With all respect to the team we’re playing, we always believe we can beat anyone,” Pochettino said. “We are facing a team on the top of the German table.”

If you are honest with yourself with what Tottenham are doing in the last few years, I think it’s fantastic from the top to the bottom

Perhaps ironically, given Spurs have not shared the points in the Premier League so far this season, two of their more eye-catching results in recent times have been draws: away at Real Madrid last season, away at Barcelona this as, after taking a solitary point from their first three group games, they salvaged qualification by taking seven from the last three.

In Europe, as in England, they have punched above their weight. They are third in the standings, but, over two months, they have even outperformed Manchester City and Liverpool. “The other day I saw that from the beginning of December that we’re the best team in the Premier League and that speaks very highly of the squad,” Pochettino said. “They are giving their best and I am so proud to be in front of this group of players.”

Spurs have to overcome more obstacles than most. It is now 378 days since they signed anyone. They have had to be resourceful. With Ben Davies out and Danny Rose, in the best-case scenario, only available as a substitute, Jan Vertonghen will probably be pressed into service at left-back.

“I’m always available for any position where the team needs me,” said the Belgian. “Obviously there are some differences between the two positions. As a centre-back and a left-back, I try to do it my way. I’m a different left-back to Danny Rose and Ben Davies. I played there for so many games for Belgium in the start of my career.”

This presents a particular challenge. Dortmund’s precocious right winger Jadon Sancho averages an assist every 151 minutes in the Bundesliga, the fewest of anyone in any of Europe’s five major leagues. Dortmund’s flight to London was delayed when the teenager forgot his passport. Sadly for Vertonghen, who could be his immediate opponent, he found it.

“I haven’t been so much surprised with him because I knew what he was capable of doing,” added Pochettino. “We were talking in the last few years that he was a massive prospect to be a very good player. He is showing in Germany that he can handle the Bundesliga and the Champions League.”

But Spurs are showing they can cope with the dual challenge of England and Europe.

Updated: February 13, 2019 08:19 AM

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