With a vision of Glenn Hoddle, Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa fresh in his mind, Quique Sanchez Flores will visit White Hart Lane for the first time in his distinguished playing and coaching career tomorrow.
During his days as a player at Real Madrid and Valencia and the time spent coaching Getafe, Valencia, Atletico Madrid and Benfica, Sanchez Flores has not crossed paths with Spurs, let alone played or led a team out at one of the few top-flight grounds which retains a uniqueness and is steeped in tradition.
“I always think of them as one of the best teams in England,” said Sanchez Flores. “I love Hoddle. For me he is one of the best players England have ever had. He was amazing and was really elegant. I love Ardiles, also, Villa, too. They had an amazing team.”
The current one isn’t bad, either. Spurs are third in the league, five points off the top and have won each of their last five and lost just one of the last 11. Sanchez Flores knows Mauricio Pochettino from their days coaching in Spain. Pochettino did a number on him in La Liga, winning two and drawing one of the four matches between Atletico and Espanyol. It was a surprise, looking retrospectively, to see two largely conservative coaches involved in matches that averaged four goals a game.
“Our teams in Spain are normally offensive teams,” said Sanchez Flores. “They were open matches and had a lot of goals.”
Pochettino sought to limit the number of goals Watford could score against his Tottenham team in December by breaking with the norm and asking Eric Dier to slot into the heart of the defence alongside Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen in a modelled back three. It was a move that caught Watford’s tactically astute and well-prepared coach by surprise.
“He prepared well the matches,” said Sanchez Flores of his opposite number. “He’s always thinking about the opponent. During the week we analyse the matches of Tottenham and analyse their shape and the first XI. We show the video to the players and we think about a plan for Tottenham. Then, at the last moment, the list [teamsheet] comes and we try and paint the lineup as quick as possible in the notebook. He surprised us a bit in the first match with three defenders. It was a surprise, it was the first time they play with three defenders. We adapt after 20 minutes. We have bad memories about this match, very bad memories. [The winning goal] was offside.”