You spoke about the players’ mentality after the Monaco defeat. How have you gone about lifting spirits this week?
Mauricio Pochettino: “I always try to be honest. I think the most important thing is to be critical with myself first and then (the players). Like always I was very honest – we struggled to be competitive in two tough competitions like the Premier League and Champions League. We struggled a lot and we didn’t show enough quality to compete and to be at the top. In the Premier League we are unbeaten after 12 games and after five games in the Champions League we lost three and that is no use. We didn’t show enough quality to be competitive in both competitions, I think that is very obvious and I think we all agree about that.”
What has been your message to the players?
Mauricio: “We are talking about how, for different reasons, we weren’t competitive in both competitions – that is very obvious and all the players understand that. It was our first experience in the Champions League and it is completely different. You can see how we managed the last two seasons in the Europa League, we rotated a lot and I remember I was always asked why we made 10 changes, everyone always asked the question and now it’s a completely different season. I think it was a great experience for us, for me personally as a manager and for the players, for the first time, to compete in two very tough competitions. Now we can feel how difficult it is because when you play Saturday-Tuesday or Saturday-Wednesday, you need to be ready. It’s not only physical, it’s more mental and how you spend that energy – it’s sometimes difficult to recover and feel 100 per cent and give your best. Always you want to win, you want to show enough quality to try to compete in the best competition in the world but sometimes we struggled and for different reasons we couldn’t cope with that. We need to be critical and try to improve for the next time that we have the possibility to play again.”
How do you solve the problems that you’ve had in terms of results in the long-run?
Mauricio: “Always from experience you can learn. You need the experience to have the possibility to improve. For us it was a great experience – a tough experience because we are out in the group stage but a great experience because we need to be prepared in different ways or maybe to be more strong and take that competition in a different way in the future. We need to try to assess now what happened from the beginning and try to solve it for the future. Always it’s important to improve.”
Is the depth of your squad a problem for you?
Mauricio: “No, I think that maybe after the Monaco game in different comments, maybe I talked about not having enough quality. Maybe it was difficult for us to show our quality in both competitions. We are unbeaten in the Premier League and to show the same quality in the Champions League was the problem for us. I think that we’ve had a very good squad from the beginning, I always told you that we have very good players but we struggled to show that we have enough quality to share both competitions.”
Some people have been wondering why certain players were on the bench in Monaco. Is that a sign of prioritising one competition over another?
Mauricio: “No. For me football is about the squad. We’ve played five games in the Champions League, in the first game against Monaco at Wembley we lost and we played with a different team than when we played against Monaco away with different names, different players. We won against CSKA with a different team, we lost the game against Bayer Leverkusen with a different team – sometimes they were involved, sometimes they weren’t involved and it’s not about names because it’s too easy to analyse the performance or the result like this. To be fair, all players are important, sometimes you need to rest some players for different reasons that sometimes we cannot explain but we failed and we all feel disappointed. When you fail, you fail as a squad, it’s not about one player in and one player out.”
Have you spoken to the players about controlling their emotions after the game at Chelsea last season?
Mauricio: “That is in the past – it was a completely different period. For different reasons we arrived in a moment where it was difficult to manage the emotions but it’s normal, we are human. How we started the game, 2-0 up after 45 minutes was perfect but then we went back to the game and after how we conceded a goal, we lost our heads a little bit but that is normal in football. Now we are in a different period, all is different, we know that we need to go and believe that we can win. They are in very good form but it’s all about football, trying to play better than them and trying to win the game. That is in the past – from our side, all is forgotten.”
With Danny Rose suspended, is Ben Davies available at left-back?
Mauricio: “No, Ben is still out, he is injured and Danny Rose is suspended. We played against Sunderland with Jan Vertonghen at full-back or we can play with Kieran Trippier on the left or we can play with Kevin Wimmer. We have different options to play. After Monaco we need to assess the players and tomorrow we have another training session to decide the players that are available to play.”
What have you made of Chelsea’s form, winning six games in a row?
Mauricio: “It’s a good challenge for us to go and to play in that moment. They are in very good form, they have a great manager that I know very well and they have great players too. For them, they are not involved in the cups now, they have time for training and to develop their philosophy and I think, not only in England but in Europe, they are a team on form today.”
Is the club’s poor record at Stamford Bridge a motivation to do better this time?
Mauricio: “Yes, it must be a motivation for us, it must be a very good challenge. It’s a big motivation for me personally and it must be for the players too.”
Could there be another opportunity for Harry Winks to play at Chelsea?
Mauricio: “We’ll see if we decide to put him in the starting XI but it’s true that I am very happy. With two performances in two big games against West Ham and Monaco, his performances were very, very good and I’m very happy with him but we’ll see if the decision is to be in the starting XI or not.”
Why have you used different formations in recent weeks?
Mauricio: “We played with a different formation last season against Watford but it’s true that after Arsenal, against West Ham and Monaco we started to play again with four at the back. Maybe it was a different formation from the beginning but in the end the same philosophy and same principles apply. After Leverkusen when we lost at Wembley, we believed the team needed to try to play in a different way to try to surprise the opponent, to feel a little bit different on the pitch.”
What’s the latest on Toby Alderweireld’s injury?
Mauricio: “It’s true that, before, our expectation was for him to recover. It’s true that we miss him a lot but we are happy – today he was involved with the squad to do some boxes and with the ball. I don’t want to be wrong again, we hope that as soon as possible he can be available again. We’ll see tomorrow if he can do the whole training session and next week will be key at the end of the week to see if he will be available or not for Swansea.”
What’s your reaction to today’s news that Steven Gerrard has retired from playing?
Mauricio: “I think he was one of the best players born in England. I always admired him, he was a fantastic player and we will miss a player like him on the pitch.”