Key Spurs men to return at Villa Park

LONDON • Mauricio Pochettino's decision to rest several key players in Tottenham's Europa League 0-3 loss to Borussia Dortmund will be tested when his side return to league action against Aston Villa today.

Pochettino opted to name a weakened team for the last-16 first leg in Germany on Thursday, omitting Harry Kane, Erik Lamela, Mousa Dembele and Kyle Walker, while Dele Alli was suspended.

The resulting defeat prompted criticism of the Tottenham manager, who clearly prioritised the visit to face the Premier League bottom club at Villa Park today when his side could move to within two points of leaders Leicester City.

Having been installed by many as the favourites to win the title for the first time since 1961, Tottenham's challenge has faltered in the last two weeks with last weekend's failure to hold on to the lead against an Arsenal side reduced to 10 men following a defeat at West Ham.

Pochettino's side remain in a strong position, but cannot afford to lose more ground, with Leicester due to face struggling Newcastle tomorrow. And Tottenham defender Toby Alderweireld admits they must move on from their last defeat.

"Everyone is disappointed after Dortmund and it will take a couple of days, but then the focus is on Sunday," he said.

Villa head into the game on the back of four straight defeats which have left them nine points from safety and on the verge of being condemned to the second tier for the first time since 1988.

The club's much-maligned manager Remi Garde has attempted once again to shock his beleaguered players into action by appealing to their character.

"They suffer, everybody suffers, but we are professional," he said. "We are in a situation where there is no place for weak people or weak characters.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

ASTON VILLA V TOTTENHAM

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 13, 2016, with the headline 'Key Spurs men to return at Villa Park'. Print Edition | Subscribe