MADRID (Reuters) – Tottenham Hotspur can defeat Barcelona at the Nou Camp on Tuesday to secure a place in the Champions League knockout stages, their upbeat coach Mauricio Pochettino has said.
Spurs must equal or better Inter Milan’s result at home to already-eliminated PSV Eindhoven to clinch a last-16 spot that looked improbable after just one point from their opening three group games before consecutive home wins over PSV and Inter.
Pochettino’s opposite number Ernesto Valverde said earlier on Monday that he would make a number of changes to his team with Barca already qualified as group winners but Tottenham’s Argentine coach is taking nothing for granted.
“We’re going to be ready to compete in the best condition that we can,” Pochettino told a news conference on Monday.
“I’m optimistic, I think we come here at our best and we need to prepare and think about the game we are going to play, not what Barca will do.
“Barcelona have a great team of 24 players with great quality. To be one of the best teams in the world you need a squad who can show their quality, and they are all here because they deserve to be.”
Having beaten Leicester City 2-0 away in the Premier League on Saturday with a rotated XI, Pochettino is expected to recall talismanic striker Harry Kane, who was rested.
He indicated that he will make changes given the gruelling schedule English sides face over the Christmas period.
“We’re playing 12 games in 40 days and have no pause in December,” said the Spurs boss. “If you don’t rotate it’s difficult, but what Tottenham offers players is the opportunity to grow and play well in the same way no matter who is playing.”
Tottenham captain Hugo Lloris said Barcelona would give his team a tough game, no matter what changes they make. “It’s always a special game to play against Barca in the Nou Camp, it’s a special place, one of the best,” the French keeper said.
“The context is different for us and them, but they know that when you wear a Barca shirt you’re obliged to win whatever the context, and they’ll want to do that.
“It won’t be easy but the most important thing is that we believe in our chances of getting through and play with 100 percent belief that we can do it.
“It’s very difficult to stop a player like Lionel Messi, and if we can do that we will need to as a team and have to put in a big performance.”
Barca top the group with 13 points ahead of Spurs and Inter on seven and PSV with one. Tottenham are above Inter on their head-to-head record having lost 2-1 away and won 1-0 at home.
(Reporting by Joseph Cassinelli; Editing by Ken Ferris)