Tottenham can win big matches without star players - Pochettino
LONDON -- Mauricio Pochettino says his Tottenham squad has learned how to win big matches without important players.
Pochettino is preparing for more time without Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama -- last season's best midfield pairing -- after the Belgium international picked up a fresh injury -- this time to his hip -- in Madrid on Monday. Wanyama is making slow progress recovering from a knee injury and will see a specialist next week.
As usual, Pochettino and the club have not put a timeframe on their returns but the manager will again be without both for Liverpool's visit to Wembley on Sunday.
Last season, injuries to Harry Kane, Toby Alderweireld and Danny Rose derailed Tottenham's autumn but they underlined the newfound strength in the squad with a 1-1 draw at Real Madrid on Tuesday -- despite missing Wanyama, Dembele, Dele Alli, Erik Lamela and both left-backs.
And Pochettino explained: "Last season it was difficult to cope with competitions -- the Champions League and the Premier league.
"Today, we have the same number of players available and similar injuries, but because the team has moved on, improved and learned, we're competing much better. We're more mature as a team and I am happy about that. That is the big difference."
With Eric Dier needed in a back-three, Pochettino named a makeshift midfield of Harry Winks, Moussa Sissoko and Christian Eriksen against the might of Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.
They held their own but Pochettino is wary of pushing his available players too hard before Wanyama and Dembele are fit again.
"Everyone is pushing up and trying to improve," he explained. "I am very pleased to have different alternatives to play, which is a change from last season. We are playing different systems to try to play with characteristics of our players. Sissoko, Eriksen, Dier, Winks are helping a lot and they know they have to work, not just play football. It is fantastic to hide the lack of players who can play in that position
"We are happy that we see a long-term. Maybe we need more players with capacity to play there, it's important with Victor and Moussa to recover them because we have a lot of games and we need to manage the players because they are involved in national team, they are not a machines. We need options to rotate and to keep our level is important.
"To miss Dembele and Victor, it's tough to replace them. We are forced to push players too much sometimes, sometimes we need to give them a rest as they are not machines."
Pochettino admires Everton's Ross Barkley, who has been linked to Spurs as a longterm replacement for Dembele, but the manager said he has made no decision about signing a new midfield player in January.
"There's no decision at the moment if we are going to move in January," he said. "We are talking to [chairman] Daniel [Levy] and [chief scout] Steve [Hitchin] and we are focused on every position on the pitch, to be vigilant and aware of what we need to do. At the moment no decision, we are happy and expect Victor and Moussa to recover."
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.