Mauricio Pochettino is adamant Tottenham must focus solely on Sunday’s trip to Watford rather than the higher-profile meeting with Premier League leaders Chelsea that follows soon after.
Wednesday’s London derby showdown with Chelsea at White Hart Lane is one of the most anticipated fixtures of the season for both sets of fans.
Spurs beat Chelsea 5-3 in January 2015 when the latter were on the way to the Premier League title and Tottenham’s hopes of lifting the trophy last season were ended by a bad-tempered 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge in May.
But Tottenham boss Pochettino insists victory over Chelsea would not be half as sweet if it followed a points-dropping performance at Vicarage Road.
“The most important game is Watford,” he said. “It’s important to try to reduce the gap to the top four.
“We need to be focused on Watford because they are the most important now for us.
“Chelsea have a very big gap now to second and 10 points to us but it’s not decisive.
“We need to believe, we’re fighting to reduce the gap and we have a very good opportunity when we play them.
“Firstly we need to win against Watford, it’s a very important three points, and then we’ll see what happens. There are a lot of games ahead, it’s nearly the half way through season.”
Tottenham boasted the meanest defence in the Premier League over the calendar year, with just 33 goals conceded in 2016.
But Pochettino may opt for the three at the back formation he employed for the first time in the corresponding fixture against Chelsea last season, which Tottenham won 2-1 just after Christmas in 2015.
Pochettino has to adjust his back line as central defender Jan Vertonghen and right-back Kyle Walker are suspended for a match each after picking up their fifth bookings of the season in Wednesday’s 4-1 win at Southampton.
– Fantastic behaviour –
Vertonghen might have been handed a longer ban had a disciplinary panel ruled that video footage of the Belgian clashing with Southampton’s Jay Rodriguez merited a violent conduct charge.
The incident was missed by the officials at the time but the panel decided intent could not be proved and Pochettino was grateful for Rodriguez accepting that the hand thrust in his face by Vertonghen had been accidental.
“I want to say that behaviour of Jay Rodriguez was fantastic,” he said.
Watford are gripped by an injury crisis as Daryl Janmaat, Valon Behrami, Robert Pereyra, Isaac Success, Adrian Mariappa, Ben Watson, Stefano Okaka and Craig Cathcart are all expected to miss the game and Miguel Britos is suspended.
Hornets boss Walter Mazzarri even took a piece of paper to his pre-match press conference with his unavailable players written down to emphasise just how desperate his team selection is at present.
“We need a priest to come,” he joked. “It is very important and will allow me to evaluate players who have not played so much. It will help me understand what players I have.
“We are in a difficult situation, I brought the paper here on purpose to show you a list of injured players.
“I want everyone to notice this is a period we don’t have these players – and it is normal when we don’t have players who can influence the result.
“I also want to thank the fans, our fans because home and away they have always supported us.
“Now we need them more than ever because some of the players who have not had many minutes will need them.”