London (AFP) – Mauricio Pochettino has warned Chelsea that success starved Tottenham are ready to underline their arrival as a major force by knocking the Premier League leaders out of the FA Cup this weekend.
Pochettino’s vibrant young side have emerged as the only serious opposition to Chelsea in the title race and on Saturday they face the acid test of their credentials when they resume hostilities with their London rivals in the semi-finals at Wembley.
Booking an FA Cup final place for the first time since they last won the competition in 1991 would be a huge psychological boost for a club dogged by decades of failure to turn potential into prizes.
It is nine years since Tottenham won the League Cup for their last major trophy, while their wait to be crowned English champions stretches back to 1961.
Pochettino’s inspired work on the training ground has earned plenty of plaudits during his two and a half year reign, but the impressive Argentine knows some critics doubt the mental strength of his players after they choked when they had a chance to wrestle the title from Leicester’s grasp last season.
Led by England internationals Harry Kane and Dele Alli, Tottenham are a more formidable force now and like Chelsea they had four players named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year earlier this week.
Pochettino’s team head to Wembley on the back of a seven-match winning run that has lifted them within four points of Chelsea in the title race.
And they face opponents who look vulnerable for the first time this term after last weekend’s 2-0 defeat at Manchester United and a recent shock loss to Crystal Palace.
Pochettino heaped a little more pressure on Antonio Conte’s men by claiming their wealth of experience makes them favourites on Saturday, but he was quick to remind the Blues his own group are on the verge of fulfilling their potential.
“If there is one favourite it’s more Chelsea because they are on the top in the Premier League. Their players and manager have experience,” Pochettino said.
“We are talking of the team that maybe in the last five years has won European competitions, a manager that won the league with Juventus in Italy.
“When you fight the likes of Chelsea, you compare the players and they have players that won World Cups.
“I think it’s a more experienced team than us. Our players have not won much, maybe some players have some titles (with other clubs).