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Mourinho: Some Spurs players feel they shouldn’t be in Europa League

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ottenham manager Jose Mourinho has claimed some of his players are not motivated by the Europa League group stage and feel they should not be playing in the competition.

Spurs qualified for the knockouts with a game to spare via a wild 3-3 draw with LASK, which leaves them needing to beat Royal Antwerp at home next Thursday to top the group and avoid the Champions League dropouts in the last-32.

Mourinho made eight changes from the draw at Chelsea on Sunday, with only Tanguy Ndombele, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Heung-min Son keeping their places, and Spurs twice let leads slip at 2-1 and 3-2 in Austria.

The Portuguese afterwards criticised the attitude of his fringe players, saying Son and Hojbjerg were among those he could rely on and hinting he would be less inclined to rotate in next year’s knockouts.

“[I learned] nothing new really,” Mourinho said afterwards. “The fact that the Europa League group phase doesn’t motivate some of the players, I knew it.

“That some players are fundamental for us and I always need on the pitch in any circumstance, a couple of these players to give a little bit of balance to the team. As an example, Hojbjerg and Sonny, without them I don’t think we would have a positive result. Nothing really that I learnt.

“The players know that and I share my feelings with them, I am normally right and when I saw the warm-up before the game I had a feeling and I told the players before the game that was a huge difference in intensity, communication and enthusiasm in their warm-up and our warm-up because I was looking at both. Nothing surprises me.

“[Against Antwerp] we need to play like we did at home in every match that we played in the Europa League. We played Maccabi in the play-offs, Ludogorets and LASK and our team at home is a different home.

“When we go to Antwerp, to Ludogorets, to Linz, the stadium, the weather, the emptiness – of course at home it’s the same in relation to that – I have a feeling, but it’s not a feeling, it’s experience, that some of the players feel they shouldn’t be here.

“But the contradiction to that is players like Son and Pierre that are players that starting every match, are examples of the guys that it doesn’t matter where, it doesn’t matter the competition, they are there and they are in front of the team every time.

“I think it’s a question of attitude, which I experienced before. Even at Manchester United I had a similar situation when we lost two matches away in the group phase and when we get to the knockouts you get better opponents and more difficulties, the team faces matches in a different way.”

Spurs scored penalties at the end of each half from Gareth Bale and substitute Dele Alli in between Son’s second-half strike but LASK earned a deserved draw through Mamoudou Karamoko’s stoppage-time screamer.

Joe Hart was easily beaten for LASK’s first two goals by Peter Michorl and Johannes Eggestein, while Davinson Sanchez was dismal at centre-half.

“My experience tells me that when you get to knockouts, you get more difficult matches,” Mourinho added. “You know there is no space for the mistake, in the group stage you can lose one match, you can draw another one and you still qualify.

“In the knockout phase there is no space. At the same time the knockout phase, the spine of the team, the structure of the team becomes stronger because instead of a couple of players, two or three players, you play five or six that gives you more guarantees of an attitude and performance level. So I think yes the knockout motivates more.”

Mourinho added that he expects Harry Kane to be fit for Sunday’s north London derby.

“I believe he’s going to be fit,” the manager said. “I’m not sure, he’s on treatment. But I could be now doing some bluff or trying to pretend that he’s in big trouble. He’s not in big trouble. I believe he’s going to play.”

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