By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Tottenham Hotspur face a “cup final” against Burnley on Saturday if they are to stay in the hunt for the Premier League title, manager Mauricio Pochettino said in the buildup to the clash.
After a much-needed rest, Pochettino’s side face a crucial run of games with consecutive London derbies against Chelsea and Arsenal before the second leg of their Champions League last 16 tie away to Borussia Dortmund.
While a trip to Turf Moor, on paper, looks to be the least daunting of those fixtures, the Argentine coach said his players must forget about what lies ahead and focus “200 percent” on overcoming a Burnley side unbeaten in seven league games.
A fifth straight league win for Tottenham would leave them just two points behind leaders Manchester City and Liverpool in what has been labelled a “two-horse” title race.
“Our focus for the whole week was to give the players the idea that the most important for us is Burnley,” Pochettino, who could have top striker Harry Kane back after an earlier-than-expected recovery from an ankle injury, told reporters.
“We know that people are talking about Chelsea, Arsenal and Dortmund but for us the focus was to translate the idea that Burnley is going to be tough.
“For Burnley we need to be more motivated and with more energy than in other games. We need to believe that the three points against Burnley will be decisive. It’s like a cup final.”
When Tottenham were vying for the Premier League title with Leicester City in 2016, they often had to play after their rivals — a situation that eventually proved too much.
This season, Tottenham have responded well to the searing pace being set by the top two. With City in League Cup final action against Chelsea on Sunday and Liverpool facing a colossal challenge against a rejuvenated Manchester United, title-outsiders Spurs have a chance to apply real pressure.
“It’s going to be key in the future of the competition, the Premier League. It’s a massive three points at stake,” Pochettino said.
“But if we go to Burnley thinking ‘OK, the important game is Chelsea or Arsenal’, then we are going to struggle, and then we are going to regret it.”
Inevitably, talk of the psychological pressure of a title run-in surfaces at this stage of the season, but Pochettino believes that, ultimately, quality on the pitch is decisive.
“We give too much (importance) to the psychological aspect,” he added.
“Football is about quality. Quality and the capacity to perform under pressure. You need to show why you are a top player under pressure. But that is a quality that you can’t work. Either you are or you are not.”
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge)