Spurs out to conquer their Wembley hoodoo
By Neil Robinson
LONDON (Reuters) - Many years after Tottenham Hotspur fans sang their famous cup anthem about Ossie Ardiles's knees going all trembly on his way to Wembley, they hope their side overcome similar nerves as the stadium becomes their new home this weekend.
On Sunday Spurs begin a season playing at England's national stadium while their White Hart Lane ground is redeveloped.
Waiting for Mauricio Pochettino's stylish side will be an encouraging wall of noise from 40,000 fans who have season tickets, plus dangerous opponents in Chelsea, who beat them 4-2 there in last season's FA Cup semi-final.
In 10 games over 10 years since Wembley reopened, Spurs, have won just twice there, and last season lost two of their three home Champions League games which were staged there in preparation for this season's move.
"We have had a few bad performances in the Champions League -- against Monaco and Bayer Leverkusen -- but it was like an experience," said Spurs captain Hugo Lloris this week, predicting that Spurs' losing Wembley ways "belong in the past".
"We have also had some great performances there even if the results were not the best, like in the Europa League or against Chelsea in the (FA Cup) semi-final even though we lost," he told reporters.
With no dispensation to train there from Wembley's owners, the Football Association, Spurs are practising this week on a specially adapted pitch at their Enfield training complex which replicates the national stadium's more expansive measurements.
The Wembley pitch is bigger by 545 square metres than the one at White Hart Lane, an eight percent difference.
Over 90 minutes that means the players have to run much further, although Pochettino plays down the problems it will throw up.
"Remember when I first came to Tottenham and I was criticised for saying the White Hart Lane pitch was too small for us?” said the manager. "And now, people are saying that Wembley is too big?"
Three years ago he complained that White Hart Lane's tightness did not suit his team's style, but they adjusted well and last season turned it into a fortress with 21 wins and two draws in 23 games there.
Now he believes Spurs will adapt again and two weeks ago beat Juventus 2-0 there with goals from Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen in a pre-season friendly.
"It's still new for us, it's our first time here this year and we're going to have to get used to it fast," said left back Ben Davies.
For some, talk of a Wembley hoodoo has been overstated, given that most of the games which Spurs lost there were against top-quality opposition on major occasions. League games may be different.
Ardiles is among those hoping so and the Argentine is optimistic about their prospects, starting against a Chelsea side who lost their opening game at home to Burnley.
"New season. New hope. Finished 2nd last season. Can we go one better? Of course we can. We have the players and the manager to do it," Ardiles posted on Twitter last week.
(Reporting by Neil Robinson; Editing by Toby Davis)