How important is it to put pressure on Chelsea by winning at West Ham?
Mauricio Pochettino: “It’s important, of course, for us but it’s important for the Premier League to put pressure (on), to be interesting until the end of the season. Of course, it’s a great opportunity for us on Friday to try to reduce the gap and put a little bit of pressure on them. It’s true that the gap is important, there are only four games to play but, of course, we will play another derby against West Ham, it will be a very, very tough game but in our minds only is to go, try to play and try to get the three points because that is our challenge – to try to be in the race at the end of the game for the title.”
Is this a must-win game at this stage of the season?
Mauricio: “In the last few months, before every game it was a must-win game because to be alive in the race, always (you have to) win, win, win and win. Tomorrow is another game that we must win but, if not, the percentage to win the Premier League or catch Chelsea will be difficult. We are very calm, the team is okay, is good, in a very good mood and after the victory against Arsenal there is no reason to be worried, only we need to know that tomorrow will be another tough game where we need to be ready to fight and be focused, be better and deserve in the end to get the three points.”
What has that victory over Arsenal done for the team’s confidence?
Mauricio: “The team is showing, in the last few months, great belief. The team is so confident in our skills and you can see the results in the end. Every game is completely different with different problems. We need to try to be better than (West Ham), they will be ready to fight against us because it’s a derby and we know what it means to play a derby but the players are confident, only it’s (important) to try to arrive in a better condition with all the things clear, a good plan and try to score goals and be better than them.”
Do you get the feeling that Chelsea might just crumble if you narrow the gap to one point on Friday?
Mauricio: “No. Chelsea is a team with a lot of experience among their players – they’ve won World Cups or the Premier League before. All is about trying to win games, to win points. If we are capable tomorrow to get the three points, you will see things differently and the percentage will be different for everyone. In the end it’s up to us to win, but it’s up to them because they are four points ahead of us. How I told you before, all that happens for us will be good if we win. If we are not capable of getting the three points it will be difficult if they then fail.”
Last season you didn’t win any of your last four games. What is different 12 months on?
Mauricio: “I don’t know. I told you, now I think we are in a better position than last season. The first thing is to be sure that we finish better than last season in terms of points. That means that we’ve improved ourselves, we’ve improved on last season and then, when you are competing with another team, it’s (about) trying to be better and be above all the teams. Now we need to show that we are capable of managing the last four games. You cannot compare last season with this season, I think we’ve learned a lot and we are more mature than last season. I am so calm and then, if we win, be sure that it will be fantastic for us. If we are not capable, be sure that (it’s) because it’s football.”
There have been some reports about Slaven Bilic’s long-term future at West Ham. What do you make of that situation?
Mauricio: “I don’t know, it’s so difficult and you know I don’t like to speak about rumours. That is a massive rumour in all the clubs today. Only I can say that I have a very good relationship with him, for me he is a great guy, a great manager. It’s always difficult when you move from your stadium to a new stadium, it’s completely different. We started to see this season at Wembley when we played, we must make Wembley our home and it’s so difficult, but I think he is a doing a very good job and he is a great, great manager. It will be good to see him again tomorrow.”
Do you think Spurs can learn lessons from West Ham given their move to a new stadium and your impending move?
Mauricio: “No, I think always it’s different. Only we can see from outside, we don’t know the reality and it’s so difficult to speak about what happened. Only I can say that always when you move, it’s something that is different and you need to adapt to different things with the new stadium. Be sure that they’ve suffered a little bit but we are aware that next season our willingness needs to be bigger than this season because we need to be ready for everything. I think it’s important that all the staff, the club and the players need to know that next season will be tougher than the last or another. It will be different and we need all the people giving their best to try to arrive in the stadium in a very good condition.”
Are you hopeful that Danny Rose will be available for the Manchester United game next weekend?
Mauricio: “We’ll see. After three months and one week where he is not playing, we need to see, we need to assess. It’s not easy for every player to arrive and play and we need to assess (him) every day. We hope that next week he can stay with the group training and then decide if he is in a condition to play or not. The most important thing now is that he feels good and he recovers his fitness in his knee and then it will be important for him to be involved again with the team.”
How much of a concern is the mental health of players after the situation surrounding Aaron Lennon this week?
Mauricio: “It’s true that we feel very sorry about the situation with Aaron. We want to send all our wishes that he recovers soon, to him and his family. The club is in contact with his agent now to see what we can do to try to help him. We all feel very sorry, he is a person that was here for nearly 10 years and, of course, Tottenham care a lot about that situation of his. The players, staff and all the people are very concerned about his situation.”
After winning nine games in a row, what is your team doing better now than earlier in the season?
Mauricio: “You have a very good memory! I don’t know. What we are doing now is winning games - that is important – playing well, the team is showing very good performances and maturity. It’s not many secrets to explain. It’s football. In football, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”
Are these games largely played in the mind rather than with technical ability at this stage of the season? Do you need strong characters?
Mauricio: “Yes. You cannot split. When you play, you play with your heart, your skills, your legs, your character and your personality. It’s a thing that you cannot split, it’s a thing that is all together. You cannot only play with your brain or your character or only your abilities. It’s holistic things.”
Will you have a chat with Slaven Bilic about the lessons he’s learned about managing a team at a new stadium?
Mauricio: “Yes, (it’s) a great opportunity to listen to him. Be sure that many questions will appear after the game or before the game if we have the possibility to see (each other). Always it’s important to listen, to be open, to learn. Maybe he can advise us on different things.”
This weekend the team can mathematically confirm qualification for the Champions League. How important would that be for you to qualify for two seasons in a row?
Mauricio: “The good thing is, we are looking to and are focused on trying to reduce the gap with Chelsea. We don’t know how many points we need to be sure of the Champions League next season. I hear that we need one point to finish in the top four but I am focused on trying to catch Chelsea and reduce the gap, not on other things.”
In a table of the last two seasons, Tottenham would be top with a net spend of £7million. How pleasing is that?
Mauricio: “I think it’s a very good achievement for the club. I want to congratulate all but first, the Chairman. Daniel Levy deserves a lot of credit in all those three years because his support is massive to myself and that is a good thing to recognise. When the people help you, when the Chairman cares about you and shares all the ideas with you and tries to be involved every day, that is why, when your colleague asked me before, the good thing about Tottenham today is that all decisions are club decisions. It’s not Mauricio Pochettino’s decision or, of course, Daniel Levy’s decision. We share all the decisions and that is so important for success in football. That is why I want to recognise all his support. He is a person who is 24 hours caring for the club, the fans, trying to improve the team, trying to improve the facilities, trying to create the new stadium. All that he is doing is for us – the staff, the players, the fans. Sometimes it’s so difficult because always we appear (in the media) – when you score, all the press is for the striker, when the team is going well, it’s for the manager but when you have a great Chairman like we have, it’s important to recognise him. It’s true that when you recognise the Chairman, it’s all the people on the Board, all the staff. The last two seasons, we are showing that we are capable as a club to be strong and try to fight for big things in the future. I think we are in the right, right way.”
Rotating full-backs or wing-backs has been one of the things you’ve done at the club and that’s been key to the way things have panned out…
Mauricio: “Yes, if you follow me, I think it was one of the good decisions because when you have players that deserve to play and when you rotate, all players feel that they are involved and feel like a very important part of the team. I think that is good and I always remember from the beginning, the rotation in between Danny Rose and Ben Davies and, in the last two seasons, between Kieran Trippier and Kyle Walker… you can see the performances. If you see the starting XI in the Premier League, we have plenty of players and it’s because we have good players in the squad, it affects the teams-mates and makes them better. That is a very, very good thing for us. For me, it’s true that it’s difficult now and we must be focused tomorrow on trying to win the game and be alive in the race for the title. For me, after three seasons, I want to praise the players again for their efforts. The demand from the coaching staff is so high – for me, they are heroes, super, super players because every season we’ve improved and, every season, when nobody believed, we’ve improved again and that is a big, big credit to them.”
In this fixture a couple of seasons ago, Eric Dier scored the winner on his debut…
Mauricio: “In our first official game, he was in the staring XI, that is true. I’m very happy because he is a great guy and he deserves it. I think we’ve created all together a new style of player because he can play in different positions and play well in all the positions. It’s fantastic because he is one of the keys to the flexibility of the team with his quality. I think he was a fantastic signing for the club.”