LONDON • One of the hardest tricks to pull off in football management is looking after the players who once upon a time might have been earmarked as reserves.
Every club has a group who know deep down that if everyone is fit and in form, the realistic hope is for a place on the bench and the odd crack when the first choice in their position needs a breather.
The art of fine management includes an ability to make those players feel wanted, valued, and motivated to be ready to step up and step in the second they are needed.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino keeps that in mind around the training ground and wants that inclusive atmosphere to permeate Spurs Lodge.
"You know, it's teamwork," he said. "Football is a collective thing, but it's not only 11 players. It's 25 players, and the 25 players need to be always ready to fight and be available to give the best every time that you need them."
It has been one of the extraordinary aspects of Spurs' defensive record - the best in the Premier League with a mere 16 goals conceded - that they have done so without core defenders at different periods of the campaign.
Danny Rose is the latest to spend some time out, joining Jan Vertonghen on the injury list, while Toby Alderweireld missed two months not so long ago. Together with Kyle Walker, most would agree that makes the first-choice backline.
Even though Pochettino made a habit of changing his full-backs last season, he started this term keener on that established back four.
But they have been able to link up as a quartet in just eight of the 24 games in the Premier League.
"When you play in four competitions, plus the international games, sometimes it's not the number one that will be decisive to achieve big things," he said.
"Maybe it's the player that is waiting for his moment that, in a key game, in a key period of the season, you need to put in and they need to perform well and help the team."
Tottenham are intent on maintaining those hungry qualities as they head to Liverpool today for a league match Pochettino accepts has an extra resonance.
The Argentinian is aware of the need to keep picking up points in the hope that Antonio Conte's Chelsea falter, but he is not taking Liverpool's poor run for granted.
"If we win it will be important, to help us keep putting pressure on Chelsea," he said. "Liverpool will be motivated as this is always a big match, a very tough game. We are not the only realistic challengers."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE