Is this FA Cup tie a nice break from the Premier League or does it halt your momentum?
Mauricio: “It’s an important competition for us, the FA Cup. It’s true that maybe it’s a good opportunity for us after a very busy period to give a chance to players who haven’t played regularly, but we need to find the way to be competitive because we play a good team in Aston Villa and we want to go further in the competition. We also need to assess the players after this period and try to take the decisions to help the players and help the team to achieve big things - one of those things is to try to win on Sunday and try to go to the next stage of the FA Cup.”
How many changes? 11? Is that too many?
Mauricio: “Today, we don’t have a clear idea. Tomorrow, sure. We need to measure the level of the players and to assess them properly not only physically but mentally as well. Some players need rest. Sure, we’ll make some changes.”
The win against Chelsea was only worth three points - but is it worth so much more than that in terms of belief?
Mauricio: “It was a massive victory for us but it’s true, it’s three points, no different from another game. It was a good opportunity to show that we’ve improved and learned from last season. I was very pleased after the game because we showed we were very competitive and sometimes in this type of game, maybe you don’t play your best, but to be competitive, maybe that’s what we missed last season. It’s a big statement and step forward and the team needs to keep that mentality. When you are not playing your best, if you are competitive, you will always be close to winning the game.”
Are you in the title race?
Mauricio: “We’re in a very good position, third after 20 games. We can’t say ‘no’ but we cannot say ‘yes’. It’s a long way to the end of the season and if we show at the moment we can cope with that level and be competitive, I think ‘why not?’ I think we will be there to fight for the title, yes.”
How good could Dele Alli be? How much more improving does he have to do? Does he remind you of other young players in terms of potential?
Mauricio: “I don’t want to compare. Over the last few days there has been a lot of comparisons with different players. That is normal. I think he’s a very special player, completely different. He’s Dele Alli and it’s difficult to compare. His potential is massive, he can improve and learn but he’s showing now in the present some unbelievable qualities and showing great performances. He’s one of the best players in the Premier League today but with the potential to improve a lot.”
What is your relationship with Steve Bruce like?
Mauricio: “Very good. I’m very happy to meet him again. He’s a great man and a great manager. I like him a lot. We have a very good relationship.”
Christian Eriksen is in the top two for assists in the Premier League - can he get better?
Mauricio: “He’s another player who has the potential to improve and we need to push him to get to another level. He’s a very talented player. I’m very happy with him. In the last few months he’s improved a lot in his game and in his belief. We are pleased with how he’s improving this season.”
You said it was a big statement to beat Chelsea - how important was it to make that statement?
Mauricio: “It was a big statement about belief, that we can be competitive at that high level. I tried to explain, maybe we missed last season to be competitive as we showed against Chelsea.”
Mousa Dembele suggested the players are more mature this season, do you think he’s right?
Mauricio: “It’s true we showed against Chelsea that we can be competitive enough to try to achieve a title. I agree with him that maybe it wasn’t our best game but the team was competitive. To win the title, you not only have to play well and believe in the way you play, you have to be competitive. That’s what pleased us most after the game.”
How much of a strain is the Premier League on players mentally?
Mauricio: “I think this is key. It’s not only tough because the physical demands are unbelievable for the players, but mental too. You can see plenty of pictures from different leagues in Europe of players in the swimming pool, on the beach, spending time with families and relaxing but for our players, we’re training, playing, going to bed early. That’s tough because they are young and they need to enjoy life. It’s different for us, we’re older, we enjoy it when we are in bed! For them, they need to enjoy life. We need to understand they are young with plenty of energy. They believe that life stops in a few years but we know well, at 44 years old, that your life maybe starts at the end of your career, but it’s difficult to translate that feeling. It’s not only physical rest, but mental rest that they need. If not, they will one day explode!”
Is the FA Cup useful to rest some players or will a cup run get in the way of Premier League ambitions?
Mauricio: “Like I said, we need to assess the players. We will mix it a little. We need to assess all the players and we’ll have a better picture tomorrow.”
Tottenham are known historically as a strong cup team, but not so much in the FA Cup in the last few years. Is it your aim to bring that back?
Mauricio: “I’ve been here two-and-a-half years! We played a (League Cup) final against Chelsea two years ago. Yes, I’d like to go far and the players too, and the Club, of course, with the tradition in the cups. It’s true we’ve struggled for different reasons. We will see. Maybe this season is a good opportunity. Sometimes it’s about luck or the draw but in our mind is to go further in the Premier League, the Europa League and the FA Cup. We have a strong squad, the players work hard every day and they don’t have the possibility to play, so maybe we’ll make some changes. For me, we need to start to think that if Tottenham play, it’s important and we need to trust our players. For me, football is about the collective, all feeling part of success and failure, too. You have to give the team a balance over 10 months we’re in competition. All the players are important, some play more than others, but if they are at Tottenham, they can play in every game.”
What did winning the Copa del Rey (twice with Espanyol, 2000, 2006) do for you as a player and for the team?
Mauricio: “For Espanyol, at that moment we could only win the Copa del Rey, it was so difficult to fight for La Liga. They are fantastic memories. After 60 years, it was the possibility to play in the final, win a title and increase the trophies in the cabinet. It was unbelievable for Espanyol, one of my best memories.”
Do you need a trophy to join the likes of Mourinho and Guardiola?
Mauricio: “I don’t care about that. I want to win trophies because it means a lot for our players, our Club, our fans. Of course, my ambition is to win titles. If I work hard, believe, never give up, I’m sure one day it will arrive.”
You said last season you’d sing with Daniel Levy if you won the FA Cup - is it the same this year?
Mauricio: “No, not the same. That was bad luck. Maybe we need to find another challenge.”
How about a dance? The Argentine tango?
Mauricio: “Okay, maybe, why not? Of course. Anything you ask me if we win the Premier League I will do in the middle of the pitch, no problems.”
How do you compare the team to last season?
Mauricio: “It’s not a comparison. If we compare ourselves we have to look at other teams and with the Premier League, which was different. It’s not fair to compare. We know we’re improving and in a good position but the most important thing is how we finish, not now.”
What are you expecting from Villa?
Mauricio: “They struggled from the beginning of the season but now it’s Steve Bruce (in charge) and a team that can fight for promotion again. It’s a long way to the end of the season but they have the possibility to push up the table. They are a good team with very good players, many players who played in the Premier League. It’s a big club and it will be a tough game. The FA Cup doesn’t see if you are in the Premier League, Championship or League One, it’s a special competition and one game.”
Erik Lamela has gone to Rome for treatment, can you tell us why?
Mauricio: “He has strong links in Rome, not only do we believe it’s important to change things a little in his mind, he asked to finish his recovery there. We believed it was right. We hope after that period he’ll be available to train with the team. He’s frustrated he’s not involved and today it’s only him out of the group. He has a special link with a physio and doctor in Rome and thanks to Roma for opening the door to him. Our staff are also out there with him. We hope in a few weeks maybe he’ll be available again.”
If you reach the finals of both the FA Cup and the Europa League and had to choose, which one would be more important to you?
Mauricio: “Wow, it would be fantastic to be in that situation. I sign now! My feeling is try to win both, when you are so close, be focused on the first then the second final. Maybe it’s difficult for the second final, at that time maybe I’d ask the FA for more time and change the date of the FA Cup!”