Tottenham 'one of the very best teams in Europe' - Fiorentina coach
LONDON -- Fiorentina boss Paulo Sousa believes Europa League opponents Tottenham are "one of the very best teams in Europe" and has warned his side they must be at their best to beat the Premier League title challengers.
La Viola visit White Hart Lane for Thursday's round-of-32 second leg, with the tie finely poised at 1-1 following goals from Nacer Chadli and Federico Bernardeschi in last week's match in Florence.
The Italian outfit beat Spurs 3-1 on aggregate at the same stage of last year's competition and are currently third in the Serie A, but Spurs are much improved this season and Sousa thinks they are among the best teams on the continent.
"I certainly feel, and I believe a lot of us also think, that Spurs are one of the very best teams in Europe at the moment. That's from a technical, tactical, mentality and physical point of view. They're a young team, and they're a very hungry team and every time they go out they want to try to impose themselves," Sousa told a prematch news conference.
"In the first game, from the point of view of the stats, we had equal possession, we created a similar amount of opportunities to score. In fact, I think we had better chances and, if anything, we could have won -- even if we didn't deserve to on the night.
"I think tomorrow will be a similar game. We need to play with a high level of physical and mental intensity and we need to play our game. Certainly in the first leg -- despite the fact that Spurs are the team that come from this background and culture of being intense, being very strong and being physical -- we more than held our own and created problems for them by the way we kept the ball moving. What we require is a game where we're at our very best and at our best level of intensity."
With second-place Spurs just two points behind Premier League leaders Leicester and eyeing a first league title since 1961, it has been suggested that head coach Mauricio Pochettino may favour an early exit from the Europa League.
Spurs play Swansea in a crucial league match at White Hart Lane just three days after Fiorentina's visit, but Sousa is in no doubt that Pochettino will be determined to progress to the last 16.
"First and foremost Mauricio's mentality and approach is one of someone who always wants to win. I find it hard to imagine a manager going into a game thinking they don't want to win or not being interested in winning a competition. And you can't just focus on one competition.
"You have to bear in mind that Mauricio comes from a very competitive footballing background and certainly he will want to win."
Dele Alli was lucky to escape with just a caution at the Stadio Artemio Franchi after appearing to kick Fiorentina's Nenad Tomovic but Sousa is pleased the teenager is available to play on Thursday.
"All the best protagonists need to be present on the pitch all the time. For the football, it's always good to see the best protagonists."
Sousa's compatriot Jose Mourinho is out of work after being sacked by Chelsea in December, but the Portuguese has been linked with a return to Inter Milan, and is the favourite to succeed under-pressure Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal.
When asked whether Mourinho was more likely to end up in Italy or England, Sousa replied: "I think Jose needs to answer that question, not myself. I always love to see the best protagonists in football on the pitch and at work. In his past, everything he showed us is on the top and for that I hope he can return as soon as possible."
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.