Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino has told his players they will have to play like Lionel Messi if they want to set up a Champions League final meeting with the Barcelona great.
Messi fired his side to a 3-0 semi-final first-leg lead over Liverpool with two goals, the second an amazing free-kick, which took his tally to 600 for the Spanish club.
Spurs, meanwhile, laboured to a 1-0 first-leg defeat to Ajax in a game where Pochettino accused his players of lacking effort in the opening 20 minutes.
Presuming Barca finish the job at Anfield next week, Messi will be waiting in the Madrid final and Pochettino wants his side to replicate his countryman in a bid to turn the tie around.
He is not expecting them to be the magician on the ball that Messi is, rather emulate his impressive work-rate.
“What can I say about Messi more than I have or others have said? He’s one of the Gods of football,” Pochettino said.
“It’s unbelievable the desire and the capacity to fight with the ball at his feet and without the ball at his feet.
“Of course, if we play like him for sure we are going to have a chance.
“But not like him doing what he does with the ball, but like him without the ball.
“If we play like him without the ball, show the desire that he had yesterday, for sure we are going to have the chances to qualify for the final.
“If not, no chance.
“That is a key point and it is so painful, in the other semi-final when you see Messi’s desire and motivation and say, ‘Why weren’t we motivated in the same way?’”
Tottenham’s participation in next season’s Champions League can be guaranteed if they beat Bournemouth on Saturday lunchtime, in their penultimate Premier League game.
The battle for the top four has been more keenly fought than expected given Spurs, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United have all dropped points in recent weeks.
Pochettino accepted Tottenham are not enjoying the best of “circumstances” relating to injuries and a packed fixture schedule, but has called for one last push from his side.
“The problem now is it’s a decisive period for us,” he said. “It’s a key moment. “Playing the second leg of the semi-final and playing Saturday against Bournemouth.
“Now it’s not to talk too much, to focus on our job and deliver. Finishing in the top four is our priority too.
“Maybe we’re in circumstances that maybe aren’t the best but now it’s a moment to be all together.
“Being together is the best. Try not to think too much, go there and try to do what we want in the end.
“Try to forget the circumstances and deliver our best. How we prepare for the games is so easy. Not too much time to prepare but it’s about being together and being strong.”
Spurs will decide whether to pick Jan Vertonghen after they get the specialist’s report from the independent neurologist’s assessment following his head injury, though none of their other injured players will be back.
That means Harry Kane (ankle), Serge Aurier, Erik Lamela (both hamstring) and Harry Winks miss out.
- Press Association