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English Premier League 2015-16

I don’t have a problem with brawling Spurs, says Pochettino as Dembele gets six-match ban

We’re not soft any more says manager

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 May, 2016, 12:19pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 May, 2016, 12:19pm

Mauricio Pochettino insists Tottenham’s ugly response to the end of their Premier League title challenge is actually a good omen for the future.

Pochettino will be without key midfielders Mousa Dembele and Dele Alli for Tottenham’s final home game of the season against Southampton on Sunday as the pair serve suspensions accrued during the tense conclusion to their team’s unsuccessful bid to catch champions Leicester.

Dembele was hit with a six-game ban for gouging the eye of Chelsea’s Diego Costa during Monday’s costly 2-2 draw, while Alli is sidelined after being caught on camera punching West Bromwich Albion’s Claudio Yacob in the stomach in a 1-1 draw a week earlier.

Even the urbane Pochettino seemed to lose his cool as Tottenham’s title hopes faded and at one stage he charged onto the pitch in an unusually aggressive attempt to break up a row between Tottenham defender Danny Rose and Chelsea’s Willian.

Those incidents and Tottenham’s ill-tempered response to blowing a two-goal lead at Chelsea, a result which handed Leicester the title, has prompted criticism of Pochettino’s handling of his second placed squad.

To make matters worse for Pochettino, his team’s petulant side showed up during their failure to hold onto leads against West Brom and Chelsea as the pressure of chasing Leicester caused them to crack up.

But Pochettino took a more positive view of Tottenham’s feisty antics, insisting his young team were developing a streetwise mentality that will help them deal with future opponents intent on bullying them.

“I hear in the last two years always people say ‘Tottenham was soft’. But now we start to show character,” Pochettino said.

“Maybe we crossed the line, I can recognise this, I am not stupid. It is important to manage better our energy for the next season and ensure we learn a lot about this game.

“But this season we have shown we are not a nice team to play, not anymore. I think our opponents don’t like to play against us because we show passion.

“Maybe we show too much passion but we need to take this in a positive way.”

While Tottenham’s meltdown cost them a chance to win the title for the first time since 1961, Pochettino’s reputation is untarnished in the White Hart Lane boardroom.

The 44-year-old and his agents are in the process of agreeing a two-year contract extension with chairman Daniel Levy that will keep him at the club until 2021.

“It is not signed yet because it was a very busy week. But we have a verbal agreement,” Pochettino said.

Pochettino’s reputation as one of the more astute tacticians in the Premier League grows by the week.

But it helps any manager to have a striker of Harry Kane’s quality and the Argentine will be delighted by reports this week that Levy is ready to double the England international’s wages to £100,000-a-week in a bid to fend off interest from bigger clubs.

Kane’s predatory instincts have brought him 28 goals in all competitions and put Tottenham on the verge of finishing above bitter rivals Arsenal for the first time since 1994-95.

While there will be a sense of what might have been at the Lane this weekend, the prospect of securing north London bragging rights over Arsenal, who are three points behind Tottenham with two games left, should keep them motivated.

Tottenham are the only top-flight team Ronald Koeman has failed to beat since he joined Southampton as manager in June 2014.

But four points from their last two matches will see Southampton surpass their best points total in the division.

“I think that is the big example of what we are doing with Southampton in two seasons,” Koeman said.

“We have beaten everybody once, only Tottenham we have not. It would be great to have a win this Sunday.”