LONDON — Mauricio Pochettino says he would prefer Tottenham Hotspur to be paired with a “big team” in Monday’s Champions League round-of-16 draw because it will be easier to motivate his players and the supporters.
The Spurs manager accused fans of being impatient in games against the lesser teams at Wembley and explained that the fear of a tough opponent would spark a better atmosphere at Spurs’ temporary home.
European heavyweights Juventus and Bayern Munich — who have played in five finals between them in the last eight years — are among the possible opponents for group winners Spurs, along with Basel, Sevilla, Shakhtar and Porto.
Speaking after Wednesday’s 3-0 win over Apoel Nicosia in their final group game, defender Danny Rose said he would not like to play the Germans but claimed Pochettino would prefer “one of the top teams.”
Asked to explain why, the Argentine said: “He [Rose] knows me and I’m so brave and like to play against the big teams. I loved to play against Real Madrid, the big teams, of course. I love the challenge and to challenge the best as I’m a winner. I prefer to play against a big team. It’s a big test for us to play against big teams.
Pochettino, who was speaking after Saturday’s 5-1 win over Stoke City at Wembley, added: “Motivation is massive. You could see in the game against Real Madrid. I prefer to play against a team that will motivate everyone rather than a team all people say you will beat easily, then it gets complicated. We love to play against a big team and we always give that little bit extra which you need.
“After 10 minutes here today, people think you should win 3-0. People don’t have the patience to build our the result. Sometimes we keep possession people aren’t always comfortable. And that’s why you sometimes want to play a big team as the people are scared a little and they support and help the team, and provide with us with better energy.”
After beating only CSKA Moscow in last season’s Champions League, Spurs finished this year’s group stage with 16 points from 18 — more than any other club and the most for an English side since Manchester United in 2007.
But the win against the Potters — courtesy of Ryan Shawcross’ own goal, Harry Kane’s double and strikes from Son Heung-Min and Christian Eriksen — ended a run of four league games without a win for Spurs, who started the weekend 18 points behind runaway leaders Man City.
“We spend a lot of energy in the Champions League and it was so tough to mix between Champions League and Premier League,” Pochettino said. “Last season, we were out of the Champions League and so focused on the Premier League; this season was like the team wanted to show that we are strong in Europe too, in the Champions League and maybe we were distracted by that.
“And now it is only Premier League and we need to be focused and try to win games because we want to be in the top four and then if something happens with another team and they drop position, we need to be there, we need to win games.”
Asked about the draw, Kane said: “When we have been in a group with Real Madrid and Dortmund and we have done as well as we have, we don’t fear anyone. To go far in the Champions League, you are going to play the best teams in Europe so we will see who we get. It will be exciting and then we will go from there and see how far we can go in the competition.”
Son added: “Every team is difficult to play. We just focus on the game, every team is actually strong. We have to be focussed every time. I don’t want to say what team [we want] because the other teams will be strong as well. We’ll go there to win the games and get to the next round.”
Dan is ESPN FC’s Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.