London (AFP) – Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino says his side will only have themselves to blame if they cannot make themselves feel at home at Wembley this season.
Spurs flopped at Wembley last term after moving their Champions League home games there and will play all of their home matches at the stadium this season while White Hart Lane is rebuilt.
Their poor record at the national stadium has led to talk of a Wembley jinx, but ahead of Sunday’s encounter with Premier League champions Chelsea, Pochettino gave it short shrift.
“Wembley is not a problem. We are the problem if we don’t win like last season,” said the Argentinian, whose side finished second behind Chelsea last season.
“If we are not able to win there, it is not because of Wembley, it is because of us. It is the most exciting place to play football.
“OK, it was difficult to move from White Hart Lane to Wembley (last season) and it was a perfect excuse for everyone. Now it’s not an excuse.”
Since Wembley reopened in 2007 after reconstruction, Tottenham’s record there has been dreadful, with just two wins to show from their 10 visits.
They lost twice there in last season’s Champions League group phase, to Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen, and have been beaten in three FA Cup semi-finals, including last season’s 4-2 defeat by Chelsea.
Quite apart from the unfamiliarity of the stadium, Spurs must also get used to a much bigger pitch.
Wembley’s playing surface is 105 metres long and 69 metres wide, compared to 100m x 67m at White Hart Lane.
Pochettino has had one pitch at Spurs’ training base in Enfield, north London enlarged to match Wembley’s dimensions in order to help his players adapt to the bigger surface.
Safety measures for the Chelsea game mean Tottenham will not be able to fill all of Wembley’s 90,000 seats, so they may have to wait to set a new record for a Premier League attendance.
– Conte ‘calm’ –
The current record is 76,073, which was set when Manchester United hosted Aston Villa at Old Trafford in January 2007.
Spurs already hold the record for the highest home attendance in an English club game after 85,512 fans turned out to watch last season’s match against Leverkusen.
Like Chelsea, Spurs have been conspicuously quiet during the transfer window and only made their first new signing on Friday, recruiting Colombian defender Davinson Sanchez from Ajax.
But whereas Spurs kicked off the new campaign with a 2-0 win at promoted Newcastle United, Chelsea’s title defence began in disastrous fashion as they lost 3-2 at home to Burnley.
The Diego Costa saga also rumbles on at Stamford Bridge, the out-of-favour Spain striker having stepped up his efforts to force Chelsea to sell him back to his former club Atletico Madrid.
Manager Antonio Conte, though, says he is having no trouble keeping dark thoughts at bay.
“I must have a good mood because I have to transfer positivity and not negativity,” said the Italian.
“This is the most important thing for the coach. When you put your work at 200 percent, it’s enough to be calm and to face the situation in the right way.”
Sent off against Burnley, both captain Gary Cahill and midfielder Cesc Fabregas are unavailable for Chelsea through suspension, while Eden Hazard remains injured and Pedro is a major doubt.
But wing-back Victor Moses returns from suspension and Tiemoue Bakayoko could make his debut after his £40 million ($51.4 million, 43.8 million euros) move from Monaco, having overcome a minor knee injury.
Young Spurs right-back Kyle Walker-Peters impressed on his debut at Newcastle last weekend, but could lose his place to Kieran Trippier, who faces a late fitness test on an ankle injury.
Left-back Danny Rose (knee) and Erik Lamela (hip) are still unavailable.