Stoke-on-Trent, United Kingdom: Mauricio Pochettino has told his Tottenham Hotspur side to hold their nerve when they play Stoke City on Monday -- the day after Premier League leaders Leicester City face West Ham United.
Mauricio Pochettino. Pic/AFP
By the time they kick-off at the Britannia Stadium, second-placed Spurs will know whether the gap to the top of the table has once again grown to double figures or whether a Leicester stumble has given them the chance to reduce the deficit to a mere four points. Either way, the onus is on the north London club to claim an away win that will maintain their hopes of delivering the English title to White Hart Lane for the first time in 55 years.
Tottenham must also keep one eye over their shoulder, with third-placed Arsenal eager to rein in their north London rivals and preserve their record of never having finished below Tottenham during the Arsene Wenger era. Spurs found themselves in a similar position last weekend, facing Manchester United shortly after Leicester had extend their recent winning run at Sunderland.
On that occasion they responded with an impressive 3-0 victory over United and Spurs manager Pochettino will hope for a repeat performance on Monday. "It was very important. Being the late game last week changed the habit and it was difficult to start the game, a bit slow," Pochettino said. "You can feel all the people are disappointed, our players, the supporters too, but they were fantastic in the end.
"We got 3-0 against United and the belief again for all the week to prepare for Stoke. We can dream again that it is possible that Leicester will drop points on Sunday." The Argentinian added: "It is important to be calm and have a clear idea what you need to do. We cannot affect what is going to happen on Sunday." Pochettino accepted the decision to include Jan Vertonghen in the starting line-up against United at the expense of Kevin Wimmer was a tough call to make.
Vertonghen had missed 15 games through injury, but the manager explained that the Belgian's qualities meant he was fast-tracked back into the side. "Jan Vertonghen is one of the leaders in the team, an international, he was fit and deserved to play because he worked very hard for two months," Pochettino said. "It's tough now for Kevin but he has to keep fighting, try to improve every day and never give up."
While Tottenham are chasing title success, Stoke are hoping to achieve their best-ever points tally in the Premier League. Mark Hughes's side have finished ninth in each of the past two seasons and last term recorded a new high of 54 points. They are seven short of that target with five games to go and Hughes is backing his side to recover from a 4-1 defeat at Liverpool last Sunday by damaging Tottenham's title hopes with a second win in six games.
"We will bounce back from last week," said Stoke manager Hughes. "We are coming up against a very consistent side. "They won't faze us. It is Monday night under the lights at the Britannia Stadium. We are really looking forward to that.
"We want to progress year-on-year. There have been frustrations this season but we still have the chance to eclipse what we did 12 months ago." Stoke will be without suspended defender Erik Pieters but top scorer Marko Arnautovic and midfielder Glenn Whelan are expected back from injury. Hughes must decide whether to give Republic of Ireland international Shay Given, 39, his first league start in goal for Stoke or stick with Denmark's Jakob Haugaard, 23, in place of the injured Jack Butland.