Tottenham’s ‘Wembley curse’ appears to have been exorcised after the victories over Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool and Real Madrid, with the Lilywhites scoring 10 goals in the process under the arch.
However, the concern remains that Spurs have been less dominant against the more defensive, bottom-half Premier League teams than they were at White Hart Lane last season, and that they remain vulnerable to costly slip-ups.
That issue is firmly in focus now as Spurs prepare to host 17th-placed West Bromwich Albion at the national stadium this Saturday.
Burnley and Swansea grabbed draws in Brent in August and September. And, although Spurs have gone on to beat Bournemouth and Crystal Palace in front of their own fans, they were made to sweat for those slender 1-0 victories.
The Lilywhites have only scored three goals across those four matches – none of them arriving in the first half, which has led to tense second periods.
With space as a premium in and around the box, Harry Kane has drawn a blank in each of the games and it has fallen to Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Heung-Min Son to get the breakthroughs.
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At times the build-up play has seemed ponderous and one-dimensional, and there is an argument for injecting some pace into the side.
But, as Pochettino points out, speedsters would only get so far – halfway into opposition territory probably, before they run into the massed and deep-lying ranks of their visitors.
Instead, trickery is the answer, in the Spurs manager’s eyes; the ability to beat a man in tight areas and thereby force well-organised defences to scramble, opening up gaps.
And, with Erik Lamela set to return to first-team action any day now after more than a year on the sidelines, Pochettino feels his countryman can help in that regard.
“To be dynamic or have players with high tempo doesn’t mean running fast,” said the Argentinian. “If we wanted players to run fast we’d sign Usain Bolt or these types of players. That’s different. We need to increase our tempo in the games, not play with more pace.
“If we’re playing against teams like Palace, Swansea or Burnley that are playing a lot deeper, you don’t need pace, you need quality – good individual quality one v one; players like Lamela that can break one v one.
“If you have pace you can be stopped with the wall and you crash. You need good quality and a capacity to drive [past] an individual. Lamela can bring that quality to the team.
“We’re using [the width of the Wembley pitch] well but then sometimes we need players that have the capacity and ability, when the teams are deeper, to beat the opponent in a short space. It’s difficult.”
Pochettino added: “It’s true we’ve struggled a little bit with teams that come to Wembley and play deeper, and their motivation [to play at the stadium] of course.
“We need to improve our positional game in the last third, in the opposition half. Sometimes we need show more patience to build our options to create chances. Of course, it’s a thing that we need to improve.”
Georges-Kevin Nkoudou is another player who could potentially provide some trickery in wide areas, as well as raw speed. But the Frenchman, who joined the club in the summer of 2016, has only made four substitute appearances this term and does not seem likely to get a promotion any time soon.
“GK, we are waiting for him still,” said Pochettino. “Today he’s not showing he’s in this condition to play. He needs to show more. You know if a player is not involved too much it’s because we believe that they need to show more and deserve to play.”
Pochettino is likely to continue his policy of rotating his full-backs against West Brom, with Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier replacing Danny Rose and Serge Aurier, who started Tuesday’s Champions League match against Borussia Dortmund.
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Last weekend, Rose was omitted from the matchday squad entirely, being told to work on his fitness at the club’s Enfield training base rather than making the trip to face Arsenal in the north London derby.
The left-back has since revealed he was “fuming” at being left out – but he could be left behind again this weekend.
“Yes, maybe,” said Pochettino. “We need to assess him. He was tired after the game in midweek. He told you that in the last 10 minutes he was tired, but that’s normal. It doesn’t concern me.
“With Danny, it’s about feeling fresh and, after his injury, it’s important that every time he’s going to play he feels fresh to give his best.
“It surprised me [when I heard he was angry last weekend] but all players are upset when they’re not involved. Out of 19 or 20 players, on matchday I say ‘ok that’s the starting 11, the ones on the bench’, and the two who are out of the squad, if you had a camera on their faces it would scare you.
“It surprised me that it created a problem like this [in the media] when there wasn’t one. But, for me, I’m happy that he was angry. In the same way I don’t care, because it’s my decision.
“If he’s angry it means he wanted to play, but I need to take the best decision for the team.”
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