Tottenham Hotspur will not lose their cool like they did last season, manager Mauricio Pochettino pledged after his side overwhelmed Bournemouth to increase the heat on Premier League leaders Chelsea.
Spurs’ bid to pip Leicester City to the title last season came crashing down amid a flurry of bookings and suspensions following stormy draws against West Bromwich Albion and Chelsea.
But after watching his side defeat Bournemouth 4-0 at White Hart Lane on Saturday, Pochettino said his players had wised up.
“I think we’ve learnt a lot,” said the Argentine, whose team closed to within four points of Chelsea ahead of the leaders’ trip to Manchester United on Sunday.
“There was a very bad period at the end of last season. We spent a lot of energy fighting against Leicester, but (also) against West Bromwich, against Chelsea, against the media, against the people.
“We fought against all and we spent a lot of energy. Now we’re focusing on fighting against our opponent when we play.
“We spend time and energy preparing ourselves to compete in the best way. It’s a big step for us.
“That was our challenge from the beginning of the season, to improve our mentality, our belief. I think you can see the group and the team improved a lot.”
Spurs often played after Leicester during last season’s run-in, but in recent weeks they have been in a position to put pressure on Chelsea by playing first.
Pochettino believes that has helped and he also flagged up former Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri’s recent comment that the whole world had been rooting for the Foxes last season.
“If you win, it’s a big thing to put pressure on your opponent. Last season we never had the position to play before Leicester,” he said.
“Claudio Ranieri said, ‘The world was for us, trying to help Leicester.’
“Last season when I told you, (you thought) ‘This guy is a little crazy.’ Now that you hear (it) from him, you can put (yourself) in my position and my players’ position.
“It was so, so difficult, because all the teams were trying to kill Tottenham. It’s impossible to understand why. But it was very good to hear that comment from Claudio Ranieri. It means a lot.
“Leicester fully deserved to win the title last season. But now I think you understand more our behaviour against Chelsea (when Spurs had nine players booked and lost Mousa Dembele to a six-game ban).
“Now you recognise the situation was so, so difficult for us.”
– ‘We need more’ –
Spurs took an iron grip on the game against Bournemouth with two goals in the first 19 minutes from Mousa Dembele and Son Heung-Min.
Harry Kane added a third early in the second half, his 20th goal of the league campaign, before substitute Vincent Janssen completed the scoring in stoppage time.
Spurs have won seven successive league games for the first time since 1967 and prevailed in 12 consecutive top-flight home games for the first time in the club’s history.
Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe was unable to provide an update on on-loan midfielder Jack Wilshere, who was forced off with an apparent ankle injury early in the second half.
With 35 points to their name, Bournemouth are within sight of safety, but Howe warned that there is still work to be done.
“We know we need more. We’ve known all along,” he said.
“We’ve got five games to come. Our destiny’s in our own hands. The danger is everyone says, ‘You’re safe.’ It’s very difficult.
“We’ve got to focus the players’ minds that we’re not.”
Howe’s side were beaten 3-1 by Chelsea last weekend and although Howe would not pick between the top two, his admiration for Spurs was clear.
“They would be the team that we would aspire to be, in possession and out of possession,” he said.
“They’re certainly a level above us at the moment, but that’s the aim.”