“A little step every season.”
That’s how Mauricio Pochettino envisions Tottenham‘s gradual integration into the elite grade of teams in Europe.
It was a comment made ahead of Juventus‘ trip to Wembley for the second leg of their Champions League round-of-16 clash, one that Spurs are in the driving seat for with the away goals rule rendering their 2-2 draw in Turin a success.
However, should Spurs finish the Italian job back on home soil, they could well be making a giant stride this season.
Given their steady progress under the Argentine, the signs are reassuring but their slow-and-steady approach hardly makes headlines, attracts investors or indeed the finest talents in world football.
Meanwhile, Pochettino’s master plan of gradually and systematically making headway towards their goal of becoming a European powerhouse, won’t have Harry Kane leaping out of his chair. It’s more likely to prompt the striker to get on the phone with his agent, unless of course the carefully engineered strategy begins to deliver returns.
It’s no secret that at 24, Kane is one of the most sought of players in the world, with Real Madrid seemingly front-runners for his signature.
The striker is happy to remain a loyal servant to Spurs – after all, he is one of their own as fans remind him every matchday – but at some point, the club must match his ambition.
Kane has featured at the top of the goal-scoring charts for the last two seasons and cherishes his back-to-back Golden Boots but being the competitor that he is, even a third on the trot – should he win the race with Mohamed Salah this season – will not compensate for winning silverware.
As such, Spurs cannot afford to let this advantage over Juventus slip. Not only do they risk losing Kane and take on a pain-staking process of trying to replace him in the process – much like their chaotic operation in the aftermath of Gareth Bale’s departure – they will also further their current status of a team just on the brink of joining the big guns but always on the outside looking in.
Kane, like everyone else, will no doubt recognise and appreciate the progress Spurs have made. Over the last three seasons, they’ve arguably been the best team in the Premier League but crucially haven’t been able to translate that into trophies.
They’ve almost arrived at the right formula, and did well to hold on to their star players last summer, but until they can make that leap from being ‘in the mix’ to genuine contenders on a consistent basis, they remain in danger of having Kane poached from them.
No one is asking that Spurs go on to claim Europe’s top prize right away, but beating the finalists from three of the last four editions and making it into the final stages of the competition will speak volumes and reverberate across the continent.
For their sake, hopefully that resonates with Kane as well.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at some talking points ahead of the match.
HOW WILL CITY APPROACH THE GAME?
There may be a temptation to rest players but City boss Pep Guardiola rarely makes wholesale changes, the early rounds of the Carabao Cup perhaps being an exception. Even with a virtually unassailable 4-0 lead, Guardiola is unlikely to want to disrupt the momentum of his side too much. City are not in action again until next Monday’s trip to Stoke, so recovery times are not a concern this week.
CHANCE FOR TOURE
Guardiola will make a few alterations though, and with Fernandinho injured it may be an opportunity to give veteran Yaya Toure a run-out. The 34-year-old has become a peripheral figure in the City squad and this season is expected to be his last at the club. It is clear he has never really fitted into Guardiola’s philosophy and the team has moved on, but his role in the vast majority of City’s successes in recent years cannot be forgotten. Supporters will want the chance to show their appreciation before the season ends.
DOUBLE CENTURY FOR AGUERO
City’s crack marksman Sergio Aguero remains one short of his double century of City goals. He scored his 199th in the Carabao Cup final win over Arsenal and has failed to find the net in the two games since. If City find Basel as easy to cut through as they did in Switzerland last month, this could be his night.
JESUS BACK IN ACTION
The game could also provide a chance to give Gabriel Jesus some more game time. The Brazil striker has made late substitute appearances in each of the last three games having recovered from the knee injury that sidelined him for two months. He could get a lengthy run on the field and possibly even start.
ANY CHANCE OF AN UPSET?
This is highly unlikely. City broke Basel in the first leg when they scored three goals in a blistering nine-minute spell in the first half. They then eased off completely but still managed to find the net again. Even if they offer Basel some encouragement by playing below themselves, they have the power to swiftly kill off any hint of a fightback.
Here, we look at seven key stats before the two teams lock horns in the English capital.
1) Juventus haven’t lost a competitive match since a 3-2 defeat to Sampdoria back in November. Since then, Massimiliano Allegri’s side have won 17 of 20 competitive matches and boast the experience in Europe to edge past Tottenham.
2) Spurs have won their last seven matches at Wembley – conceding just the once in that run – and have the pace in attack to secure a place in the quarter-final. They conceded just once in December’s 3-1 win over Real Madrid.
3) Tottenham are undefeated in their last eight Champions League matches, while Juventus are undefeated in their last six games. The Bianconeri’s sole defeat came against Barcelona in the first group match back in September.
4) Spurs have scored at least two goals in seven of their last eight European matches. They failed to score more than two goals just once in the 1-1 draw against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu in October. Mauricio Pochettino’s side’s biggest results were two 3-0 wins over APOEL Nicosia in September and December.
5) Juventus have conceded just three times in their last 20 games and are yet to concede since these two teams last met on February 13 – whereas Spurs have conceded 17 goals in 20 matches and just three times since the first leg in Turin.
6) Spurs are unbeaten against Italian clubs at home with four wins and three draws. Their most recent win against an Italian opposition was in the quarter-final of the 2012/13 Europa League – when they beat Inter 3-0 with Gareth Bale and Jan Vertonghen among the goal scorers.
7) Juventus have a poor record on English soil, managing just three wins from their 21 visits so far – including 12 defeats and six draws. Their most recent match in England was against Chelsea in the group stages of the 2012/13 Champions League – drawing 2-2 at Stamford Bridge.