Borussia Dortmund stars could play for Barca, Real Madrid - Pochettino
DORTMUND -- Mauricio Pochettino believes several Borussia Dortmund players would be at home at Barcelona or Real Madrid, and says the experience of playing the Bundesliga giants is more important than the result of Thursday's match.
Spurs face Dortmund in the Europa League last-16 first leg at Westfalenstadion, where Thomas Tuchel's side have lost just once all season and scored a staggering 61 goals in all competitions.
Dortmund have closed the gap on Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich to five points in recent weeks, and they showed their mettle by drawing 0-0 with Pep Guardiola's side at the weekend.
Pochettino believes Dortmund are among the best sides on the continent and says a number of their players are good enough to play for Spanish giants Real and Barca.
"Borussia Dortmund have very good players, a very good team, a great coach -- Thomas is fantastic, he's shown that from beginning of the season," Pochettino told a news conference on Wednesday.
"I like the way they play. It's a good challenge for us tomorrow. We're playing one of the best teams in Europe. The names that they have -- [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang, [Henrikh] Mkhitaryan, [Marco] Reus, [Ilkay] Gundogen, [Mats] Hummels -- they're international players, big players who could stay here in Dortmund or play for Real Madrid or Barcelona."
A positive result at Signal Iduna Park would leave Spurs in a strong position to progress to the quarterfinals ahead of the second leg in London, but Pochettino stopped short of naming a good result, stressing that the experience would be positive for his young squad regardless of the scoreline.
"We're excited to play in an unbelievable stadium, with a great atmosphere. All is positive. I don't want to speak about the result because always we play to try to win. But there's a lot of positive things for us to take from tomorrow and I'm excited."
Eric Dier has been one of Tottenham's most important players this season, missing just one match when available. But Pochettino has left the England midfielder in London, along with the suspended Dele Alli and Danny Rose, who has a knock.
With second-placed Spurs five points shy of league leaders Leicester with nine matches to play and eyeing a first league title since 1961, the Europa League could be viewed as an unwanted distraction.
But Pochettino insists Europe remains a priority, while admitting the need to rotate his squad.
"We always try to take the best decision and pick the best players for different games," Pochettino said.
"Tomorrow, we have a very tough game. The Europa League and Premier League are our priorities now -- we have two competitions. Sometimes you need to refresh the team, you need to rotate. It's difficult to play every game with the same team.
"From the beginning of the season, I told you it's important to have a big squad, with all the players feeling they're important. The starting eleven tomorrow is the best I can pick to win the game."
Spurs go into the match on the back of a disappointing week, after losing at West Ham and letting a 2-1 lead slip against 10-man rivals Arsenal on Saturday.
Pochettino believes the disappointed reaction to the 2-2 draw with their neighbours shows how far Spurs have come, adding: "It's a good thing to be disappointed after the game against Arsenal. It puts us at a different level. A few years ago, we'd have been happy with a draw.
"Now when you only draw with Arsenal, to feel disappointed is a very good thing. We start to change the mentality of the club and the outside too.
"It was a game we should win but we showed we can compete at this level. They always compete in Champions League and invest a lot more money than us. The players are OK they are excited to play tomorrow and against Aston Villa. They have motivation to play.
"We're in a key moment now, it's a decisive last few months but we arrive in a very good condition but learn always about the players, the mentality, about the different conditions, how we compete when we are tired and play after 41, 42 official games. There's always an improvement daily. I'm very happy with the way we are now and the projection for the future."
Pochettino's Tottenham have earned comparisons to Dortmund for their high-energy pressing game and success on a limited budget.
The Argentine said: "It's difficult to compare with them. We're in a different country, different circumstances, all is different."
Pochettino was pleased the Premier League had voted unanimously to cap away ticket prices at £30, saying: "It's fantastic news -- I'm happy. It's very important for our supporters and all supporters in England. It's very, very, very good news."
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.