By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Mauricio Pochettino said he is happy his Tottenham Hotspur players have rediscovered the winning feeling as they head to Anfield to face Premier League leaders Liverpool on Sunday.
A 5-0 win over Red Star Belgrade on Tuesday was the ideal tonic for his players and himself after a difficult start to the season he partly attributes to losing to Liverpool in the Champions League final in Madrid in June.
“It was nice to feel again the capacity to win and perform in the way we wanted,” Pochettino, whose side had managed three wins in 12 games in all competitions before coming good against Red Star in the Champions League, told reporters on Friday.
Tottenham are seventh in the Premier League after losing to Brighton & Hove Albion and drawing with bottom club Watford in their last two games.
They are already 13 points behind a Liverpool side they lost 2-0 to in Madrid — a defeat that left Pochettino “feeling empty” at the start of the new campaign.
“The Champions League final is all or nothing and it was nothing,” Pochettino said. “To be second for us is nothing.
“It means a lot of the club to reach final of Champions League but players and the staff felt empty after the game.
“With time you can say, ‘OK we played in the final of the Champions League’ but that will always be the deal.”
While Tottenham’s record against Liverpool since Pochettino took over in 2014 makes grim reading — one win in 12 games — they have stood toe-to-toe with Juergen Klopp’s side at Anfield.
They lost 2-1 there last season despite dominating the second half and drew 2-2 the season before that.
Pochettino says the key to his side’s prospects this season is finding the balance that has been missing.
Against Red Star they posed a great attacking threat with Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Erik Lamela forming a dynamic trident with Dele Ali tucked in behind as an advanced central midfielder. It would be a brave call to line up like that against a Liverpool side with such a potent strike force.
“With Liverpool they have an amazing front three in (Roberto) Firmino, (Mo) Salah and (Sadio) Mane but when they don’t have the ball they have the likes of (Jordan) Henderson and (James) Milner… to give balance,” he said.
“Balance is the most important thing and we are trying to find the right balance, that’s why we rotate. We showed better balance against Red Star, but still we need to be more solid.”
Though the memory of the Champions League final is still fresh, Pochettino played down any suggestion that it would act as extra motivation for Sunday’s game.
“In football, if the job of the coaching staff is to motivate the players then something is wrong,” he said.
“It’s more that we need to provide the tools, to inspire them and prepare them in a good way. If someone is not motivated then we have a big, big problem.”
At least Pochettino has a full squad to choose from with only keeper Hugo Lloris out injured.
Argentine Giovani Lo Celso came on against Red Star and could be in the reckoning while Danny Rose and Toby Alderweireld, left out of the squad on Tuesday, could return to the defence.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge)