LONDON – Mauricio Pochettino stubbornly insists winning a trophy is not the priority for Tottenham, but he is playing a risky game as he focuses on finishing in the top four in the Premier League.
Spurs lost 2-0 at Crystal Palace in the FA Cup on Sunday, just three days after they fell to Chelsea on penalties in the semi-final of the League Cup.
The Argentine manager, while disappointed about the two defeats, has doubled down on his long-held contention that it is more important for the team to qualify for the Champions League each season than to win silverware.
“We are going to create a debate that to win a trophy is going to help the club,” he said after defeat for his much-changed team at Palace.
“I don’t agree with that. That only builds your ego. In reality, the most important thing is being consistently in the top four and playing in the Champions League. That is going to help the club to achieve the last step.”
Pochettino has credit in the bank with fans for making Spurs regular Champions League participants in recent years, but some supporters are becoming restless as the wait for a trophy goes on – the last time they tasted success was in the League Cup in 2008.
“Of course I am disappointed because, after Thursday and today again, out of two competitions, you feel disappointed. You can’t feel anything different,” said Pochettino, who has yet to win a trophy in his managerial career.
“But now we have to be positive. We are still in two competitions, in a good position in the Premier League, and the Champions League is a massive motivation for the whole club. We have to be strong.
“Now the realistic targets are trying to be in the top four, try and be close to Manchester City and Liverpool and reduce the gap.”
The problem for Pochettino, who is preparing his injury-ravaged side to face Watford on Wednesday, is that he is walking a tightrope.
Spurs, third in the Premier League, four points ahead of Chelsea and seven clear of Arsenal and a charging Manchester United, are glancing nervously over their shoulders as much as they are looking up to Liverpool and Manchester City.
Being out of the two domestic cup competitions may help the club, who face Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League last-16 next month, by allowing them to narrow their focus.
Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool appear to have benefited from early FA Cup and League Cup exits, but the problem Pochettino faces is that their league form is also patchy, and he will likely be without talisman Harry Kane and Dele Alli until March.
Spurs have lost two of their past four league matches, and needed a last-gasp Harry Winks strike to beat Fulham last week.
One positive for Pochettino is that Son Heung-min is back, boosting options upfront.
Son has missed the past three games while on international duty with South Korea at the Asian Cup, but their surprise quarter-final exit to Qatar means he is back earlier than expected.
“On Sunday, we were with him on the training ground in the morning,” said Pochettino.
“He’s so tired, he played three games. Very tough games. Of course not too much energy on Sunday, but we hope he’ll be available and ready on Wednesday to help the team.”