Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino says experience has taught him the key to beating Pep Guardiola’s teams is courage.
Spurs face Manchester City on Sunday in a clash of first against second in the Premier League, with City sitting four points clear at the top after winning all six of their games so far.
Pochettino, however, knows what it takes to get the better of Guardiola.
In 2009, the Argentinian took over an Espanyol side in the relegation zone and five points from safety but, in his first game, they ground out a 0-0 draw against Guardiola’s Barcelona in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals.
One month later, Pochettino registered his first Espanyol victory as they beat Barca 2-1 and ended a six-month unbeaten streak for Guardiola’s men. It was the first time Espanyol had won at the Nou Camp in 27 years.
“It was a big impact because my first training session was Tuesday then we played Wednesday. We trained on the Tuesday afternoon and then in the morning to prepare for the game. Two training sessions in less than 12 hours,” Pochettino said.
“The players looked at me in the eyes like this (surprised) and I said to them we need to play high pressing and one against one at the back.
“They thought it was impossible against Barcelona, but I said ‘no, it is not impossible. We need to play like this and we need to be ready’.
“It was good because 0-0 at Barcelona was a fantastic result and it was then easy to convince the players to play in a different way.”
On the day of their defeat, Barcelona’s teamsheet boasted names like Lionel Messi, Xavi, Thierry Henry and Yaya Toure but Pochettino urged his players to be brave by pressing their opponents rather than sitting back.
“It is about your personality, how you are,” Pochettino said. “It is your lifestyle and you show on the pitch how you are.
“If you are brave in your life, you cannot behave in a different way on the pitch. It is about how you feel, how you are, your character.
“I don’t understand how to play in a different way. Always be brave, I like to be brave.”
Pochettino played more than 200 times for Espanyol and earned his coaching badges coaching the club’s women’s team, so beating Barcelona, their rivals in the city, remains a crowning moment.
“The derby was special in Barcelona,” Pochettino said.
“Barcelona looks bigger than Espanyol but in the end, Espanyol was the real Catalans, the foundation and basis of the club. Espanyol was a real Catalan people and Barcelona was founded in another way.
“That creates a bit of a problem between us. Always it was special to beat Barcelona because it is my sporting enemy. I am from Argentina but I spend half my life in Barcelona and my two sons were born in Barcelona. It was special.”
Pochettino retains nothing but respect for Guardiola’s achievements with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, and hails him as the poster boy for a new generation of modern managers.
“He is the face of the change, when you mix the romantic football with the new technology,” Pochettino said. “I think he is the start of the new era in football.”
Tottenham are hoping to usher in a new era of their own under Pochettino and victory on Sunday would see them move to within just one point of the league leaders.
Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen believes Guardiola and his own manager are not so different.
“They share a bit of the same philosophy – the way we want to press, the way we want to build up and keep trying, even in the last minute, to play from the back,” Vertonghen said.
“That is our philosophy. He (Pochettino) is a great manager and I hope that he will be in the long term for many, many years to come.”