London (AFP) – Mauricio Pochettino believes Tottenham are better equipped to cope without star striker Harry Kane than they were earlier this season, as they approach the defining point in their campaign.
Kane is sidelined for several weeks with ankle ligament damage sustained against Millwall in the FA Cup quarter-finals last weekend.
Tottenham last time failed to fill the void left by Kane’s 10-game absence with the same injury, going six matches without a win during a lean run in October and November.
But Pochettino believes his title hopefuls, who host Southampton on Sunday, will ensure there isn’t another drop in form with England forward Kane back on the treatment table.
“It was a different period,” he said. “We are finding our best form now and the team is more solid. We have improved a lot since then.
“We had a very difficult pre-season with players returning from Euro 2016, so today is a completely different period and we are at a completely different level.”
Kane will also miss England’s friendly against Germany on March 22 and the World Cup qualifier against Lithuania four days later.
League matches in April against Burnley, Swansea City, Watford and Bournemouth could also come too soon, while an FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea is looming next month.
But Kane, who has 24 goals in all competitions this season, is confident he will return from injury ahead of schedule, according to Pochettino, and play some part in the run-in.
“We need to assess him day-by-day. He’s very positive, he’s always joking about being fit after the international break or in three or four weeks,” Pochettino said.
“He’s very positive and that is good, but at the same time we need to be careful with his injury.
“We trust completely in our doctor and physios and department that looks after them in the best way.
“We’ll see but we hope that yes, as soon as possible he will be available again.”
– Form teams –
In his absence South Korea forward Son Heung-Min and Vincent Janssen are vying to start up front as Spurs try to close the 10-point gap on leaders Chelsea.
Son bagged a hat-trick in the 6-0 quarter-final win over Millwall, while Janssen scored his long-awaited first goal from open play.
Pochettino expects the pair to seize their chance: “This is a great opportunity for Vincent and Sonny to play more in the starting 11.”
Pochettino faces his former club in Southampton, who have seen Nathan Redmond and James Ward-Prowse win their first England call-ups this week.
Saints manager Claude Puel expects the pair to be flying at White Hart Lane on the back of their maiden international calls.
“It’s fantastic for them and for the club,” he said.
“They deserve it and we wish them well. Lately we’ve been in good form, scoring lots of goals and they have played a part in us achieving that.”
Southampton chiefly have in-form striker Manolo Gabbiadini to thank for that with the Italian scoring six goals in his four appearances since joining from Napoli in January.
But Southampton’s impressive recent run will be on line when they face a Tottenham side who have won nine successive league games on home soil.
“They have a lot of wins at home, so it’s a good challenge for us,” Puel said.
“It will be interesting to see our progress. They are a very good side who are very strong.
“They have beaten a lot of teams, especially at home, so we need to concentrate and play to our ability that we are capable of.”