Belfast Telegraph

Pochettino pitches in with an apology to Rochdale

By Philip Duncan

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino has apologised to Rochdale after he claimed their pitch was "not in a condition to play football" and posed a "massive risk" to his players.

Spurs, who turned in a tremendous fightback to draw 2-2 with Italian champions Juventus in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 clash on Tuesday, will head to the more humble surroundings of Rochdale's Crown Oil Arena tomorrow.

Pochettino had expressed his concerns over the turf at the League One club but they have since spent £500,000 re-laying their pitch to ensure the surface is ready for the visit of his high-flying Premier League side.

"I want to apologise to the people in Rochdale, the chairman, and the people who took my comment the wrong way," Pochettino said.

"My comment was about the care, first of all for the Rochdale players, our players, and the competition that all of England watches on TV.

"After the replay against Newport, I was with my coaching staff and they showed me a picture from Rochdale's pitch after their tie against Millwall and it was not in a great condition.

"I was conscious about the FA Cup, the football, and the image that we are going to sell, but the care for the players, too.

"Now, when I see the pictures and videos of the pitch on the Rochdale website, I need to congratulate them because the effort was massive to get it in the best condition to play without risk.

"The conditions are fantastic so I congratulate them. The effort has been massive and, again, I apologise if someone took my words in the wrong way."

Pochettino is set to ring the changes for the trip to Spotland, with Harry Kane, who has already scored 33 goals this season, an injury doubt after taking "some knocks" against Juventus.

Following victories against Manchester United and Arsenal, and their Champions League draw in Turin, Spurs will be expected to comfortably seal their place in the quarter-finals.

But Pochettino is expecting Rochdale to provide a stern test of his in-form side's credentials.

"What is important is to forget what happened in Turin or against Arsenal," Pochettino added. "We don't have time to enjoy that we won the derby, or how we played in the Champions League on Tuesday night.

"This is a different game, a different competition and it will be tough.

"For me it will be a tougher game than Juventus or Arsenal because it is a challenge to be motivated in a competition that we want to go far in, but you have to perform at your best if you want to win."

Kane is set to be replaced by the, so far, under-performing Fernando Lorente as the main striker while Pochettino also indicated that winger Lucas Moura will start his first game after his move from PSG.

"We need to assess him tomorrow but we are so happy with him and the way he is working."

Defender Toby Alderweireld - who did not travel to Italy - is also fit and likely to play the full game.

Belfast Telegraph

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