How Spurs turned their season around after Manchester City humbling
LONDON -- One of the many similarities between Mauricio Pochettino and Pep Guardiola, who meet on Saturday at Wembley Stadium, is a shared belief that more can be gained from a defeat than a victory. More than once, Guardiola has promised to heed lessons from Manchester City's slumps, notably after the 4-3 defeat at Liverpool in January that ended their hopes of an unbeaten Premier League season.
Pochettino, too, is forever encouraging his players to learn and improve and he described Tottenham's last defeat, a 2-1 loss to Juventus in the Champions League, as a "massive lesson." Both managers believe they can discover more about their players' qualities (both good and bad) in the face of adversity.
For Pochettino, the clubs' last meeting in mid-December was no different and consequently, City's victory has proven in a strange way to be one of Tottenham's most important results of the season.
Spurs were humbled at Eastlands and the 4-1 scoreline, softened by Christian Eriksen's stoppage-time goal, jump-started them rather than City. Afterwards, the Spurs manager was adamant that his players, individually and as a collective, would not be so thoroughly outclassed again, and he made them watch reruns of the game in the following week, identifying specific areas for improvement.
"We looked back at it, we knew we had to move forward," Kieran Trippier, the right-back who was repeatedly beaten by Leroy Sane, has said. "It wasn't one of the best games I've had, I'm honest about that.
"I just watched the game back a couple of times and looked at where I went wrong. We spoke about it as players as well. You move on. Man City were on fire that day, they deserved to win."
In the aftermath, Pochettino said: "Always the character is so important when you receive this type of defeat -- you have to stand up and start to win games." And that is exactly what Spurs did. The defeat left Pochettino's side, who began the season with ambitions to improve their second-place finish, in 7th after 18 matches -- 21 points behind City. But while it felt like a low point, it was actually Spurs' turning point. Their only defeat since came against Juve and they are unbeaten in 14 league matches ahead of this weekend's return fixture. Before the game, they picked up 31 points in 17 matches. Since City, they have amassed 36 points in just 14 games.
Spurs' form at Wembley, their temporary home for the season, and their natural improvement in the second half of the campaign (as in every season under Pochettino) have been factors but lessons from the City defeat were crucial. Among them were an improvement at defending corners -- Ilkay Gundogan's opening goal came from a corner kick -- and work on their tempo in the first 15 minutes of matches to ensure faster starts.
Speaking ahead of Saturday's match, Pochettino insisted that it was still unfair to directly compare the two clubs and admitted that Spurs will not earn the same respect as City until they start to win trophies.
"Their project is completely different and it's not fair to compare ours with Manchester City's," he said on Thursday. "Always fans and people are going to measure your quality on trophy wins. It's difficult to put everything in order and say 'This team overachieved, this team deserves everything, this team deserves praise as the team that won the league.'
"Or sometimes say which is the best manager. If you arrived in a bad position in the relegation zone and save the team. Or invest more money or less money, and who has the lowest net spend. That is so difficult. It's so difficult but we accept the business that if you want praise, you need to win."
This weekend's meeting has a low-key feel. City cannot win the title against Tottenham because Manchester United host bottom-club West Brom the following day and Spurs are all but assured of a spot in the top four after moving 10 points clear of Chelsea last weekend. But it could be an important signpost in giving Spurs belief that they can match City next season and another big win at Wembley would lay down a marker for the future.
While Spurs took so much from that defeat last year, now they would take so much from a win.
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.