FA CUP CLASH
Spurs coach likes Chelsea for semifinal
Mauricio Pochettino bets ‘one of the best teams in Europe, players that in the past five years have won European competitions and World Cups’ will take the semi
London — Chelsea are favourites to win this weekend’s FA Cup semifinal despite their recent stutter and Tottenham Hotspur’s irresistible form, Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino insists.
Saturday’s clash at Wembley creates a diversion from the duo’s Premier League title race, which has burst to life after Tottenham sliced Chelsea’s lead to four points with six games remaining. While Antonio Conte’s Chelsea side, who were 13 points clear a few weeks ago, have looked vulnerable in defeats by Crystal Palace and Manchester United, Tottenham have built up a head of steam with seven consecutive league wins.
"I think if there is one favourite it’s Chelsea because they are top of the table, because of the experienced players and the manager that they have," Pochettino, whose Tottenham side lost the 2015 League Cup final to Chelsea, said.
"For the neutral it’s a fantastic game and for us it’s a great opportunity to go into a final," Chelsea defender Gary Cahill said. "Two very good sides are going against each other. Every top player enjoys big games and this is a huge one. But you only enjoy them if you win them. That’s our focus, to win and then get back to the league."
Pochettino agreed with Cahill’s top-player comment.
"We are talking about one of the best teams in Europe. Players that in the past five years have won European competitions and World Cups, a manager who won the league in Italy. They are more experienced than us. But we are in a good moment, too, and we are hungry to challenge this type of team. We are happy to fight with the best team in England for the Premier League and (FA) Cup."
Former Espanyol and Southampton manager Pochettino, in his third season in north London, is yet to win any silverware with Tottenham but if trophies were awarded for progress the Argentinian would be ahead of his rivals.
Since the start of last season they have won 141 Premier League points — 11 more than the second-best team, Manchester City and 16 more than Chelsea.
A late collapse last season meant they finished third despite being the only club to push Leicester City for the title, and they are poised to improve on that position.
"I remember the first few press conferences three years ago when we signed here and I was asked how we can reduce the gap to the top four," Pochettino said. "That was the main problem that Tottenham had. Now, not only have we reduced the gap to the top four, we are fighting for the Premier League and to win titles.
"With six games to go we have 71 points. Last season we finished with 70. We have improved. The team is playing in a good way, exciting football, scoring goals and not conceding too many chances. We have great momentum and that is the most important because that can change very quickly."
Pochettino said he was especially proud of his work in the face of the greater spending power of clubs around them.
"It’s a big thing that people include Tottenham in the same level as United, Chelsea, City, Arsenal and Liverpool," he said.
"It means a lot because we are in a very different project. Today, to beat Tottenham is a big challenge for everyone, which is good news for us."