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Champions League: Tottenham must take advantage of Pep Guardiola’s divided focus to dismantle Manchester City juggernaut

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!

The world forgetting, by the world forgot.

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!

Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd

- Alexander Pope, Eloisa to Abelard

Can Tottenham do it? “Why not?!” exclaimed a beaming Mauricio Pochettino in the build-up to second-leg of the quarter-final clash versus Manchester City. Tottenham hold a 1-0 advantage over the hosts at the Etihad, additionally smiles across their faces.

 Champions League: Tottenham must take advantage of Pep Guardiola’s divided focus to dismantle Manchester City juggernaut

Tottenham's Son Heung-min scored the goal against Manchester City in the first leg. Reuters

The buoyancy of the Tottenham squad was boosted by Mauricio Pochettino’s former PSG teammate, Ronaldinho’s endorsement that Spurs can go ahead and win the competition.

“It’s great that someone like Ronaldinho believes in us,” admitted Pochettino. “That boosts the squad, many of whom have grown up looking up to him. Who knows? Maybe we will be able to beat an amazing team like Manchester City.”

When you see Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino now, you don’t see a man resigned by the inadequacies of the challenges that face him against the nouveau riche stature of Manchester City. You don’t see a lump-eyed, one-gloved man in boxing shorts, with an arm tied to his leg. Instead, you see a man relishing, calculating the ways he could hopscotch around them. Not dissimilar to his former teammate, Ronaldinho, to whom no challenge, no man-mountain was big enough.

“Nearly spending 3 years with Ronaldinho, you can’t help but see the world in his way. Every moment you’re alive is joyous despite temporary disappointment, every moment is holy, and is to be celebrated in some way. I learned a lot from him – laughing, smiling, dancing. If you want to play well, you have to enjoy it, be happy and smile.  In football, all can happen; like in life, you must believe and have trust in yourself.”

The Tottenham manager is, quite frankly, just happy to be here. This would be the first time the unfancied Argentinian manager finds himself in this stage of the competition as grand.

Suffering is syntax in the grander scheme of things. The road to happiness is lined with toll booths. And few know it better than the philosophical French goalkeeper-captain of Tottenham, Hugo Lloris: “We are ready to suffer. We are going to suffer. But we can make the game difficult too. The difference between winning and losing will depend on mentality and the human spirit. But at the same time it’s also about enjoying ourselves, as we’ve never been here before. We know we are facing one of the best teams in Europe; there needs to be a good balance between effort and economy. At the end of the day, we want to feel when the whistle blows that we have left everything on the pitch.”

And few write their own story better than Tottenham’s South Korean ace Heung Min Son – the man who would have been subjected to military service for had he not won the Asian Cup last summer. He, as a testament to the sheer force of will, did just that. Tottenham are riding the wave of his goal at their new stadium heading into this clash.

Not too long ago, City manager Pep Guardiola made the mistake of calling Tottenham the “Harry Kane team.” Which was to insinuate that the qualities of Pochettino’s squad start and end with their serial goal-getter. A claim Guardiola further regretted when Son replaced and Kane in the first-leg of the competition to score a winning goal of oriental finesse.

Guardiola, however, also has other concerns. “I have to win. The chairman (told) me I have to win three times in a row,” he confessed in a jaded manner in the pre-match presser. Moneybags City face a formidable fixture list: after back-to-back matches against Tottenham in European and domestic front (this Saturday), arch-rivals Manchester United will stand in the way of their Premier League hopes. “If we don’t win these games we will be out in two competitions,” Pep said matter-of-factly. “They are absolute finals for us.”

Liverpool, their domestic challengers, who face Porto at the Estadio do Dragao in their Champions League quarter-final clash tonight will have vested interest on how City cope and are a constant looming presence. Guardiola explains: “Last season around this time we were already champions. But this season we have an incredible opponent in Liverpool. Normally you are champions with 86 points. They have 85, so both teams deserve to be champion but one is going to get it.

“We have this belief and ambition to do it, said a defiant pep.  “Like last season, 100 points never done before.”

City's hefty strength in depth will be no doubt tested competing in four front, but as optimistic as Guardiola is, logic suggests that effort will be diluted to the physical and mental toll that elicits. It’s all up to Tottenham to take advantage of Guardiola’s divided focus and dismantle this unstoppable City juggernaut – a prospect that would delight Mauricio Pochettino and his blameless lot, of whom little was ever expected. They can take a lot of heart to what from what Ajax did to Juventus last night.

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Updated Date: Apr 17, 2019 14:46:55 IST

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