Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Mousa Dembele excited about Champions League tie with Italian giants Juventus
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The Belgium powerhouse reflected on the north London derby success and revealed his desire to win something with Spurs
Mousa Dembele says Tottenham Hotspur have been building towards their showdown with Juventus for a long time as the club prepares for its first Champions League knockout tie for seven years.
Harry Redknapp’s side reached the quarter-finals in 2011 but Spurs have only qualified for Europe’s elite club competition twice since then – and last term they bowed out in the group stage.
This time, however, Mauricio Pochettino’s squad have reached the last 16.
They visit Italian title contenders Juventus in the first leg of the tie on Tuesday, and Dembele – who joined Tottenham in 2012 – feels this moment has been a long time coming.
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“Yes, 100 per cent,” he said. “I think it’s something exciting for us - it’s a big team and the Italian teams have a certain way of playing. But we will have a plan as well. I think it will be a good game.
“The difference between when I came here in the first year is massive. It’s difficult to compare to last season but every year we improve. With the same manager, same philosophy, we know how to play - it’s easier.
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“Does this feel like a top-four club now? 100 per cent, yes.”
Tottenham will travel to Turin in high spirits after winning Saturday’s north London derby, beating Arsenal 1-0 at Wembley.
After a tight first half, Spurs took a 49th-minute lead through Harry Kane and then went close to extending their lead on a number of occasions before surviving two late scares.
“We played well I think - very aggressive, very focused,” said Dembele. “We could have scored more goals but I can only be happy with the score.
“At half time, the manager said to continue like we were. He said we could step up even, and there were some details of course about how to stand in certain situations. He was positive but he told us ‘step up now and make the difference’.
“Every game is different but for a while we’ve had confidence. We think we can beat any team. It’s no surprise for us.
“Obviously we’re happy because [we’ve beaten] a good side and they’re playing well as well. But if we stay focused I think, on our day, there are not a lot of teams that can beat us to be honest.
“I’m not busy with this question about who’s the best club in north London. I know at the moment we perform well, we feel strong and we’re not scared to play any team – even Arsenal, or whatever team it is.
“We have a lot of confidence and we just want to win something. We’re not thinking about who is the best club in the world or in London - we just want to win something.”
Dembele struggled to find form and consistency earlier in the season, largely due to injuries.
Having undergone surgery on a long-term foot problem in the summer, the midfielder has been sidelined by ankle, hip and groin problems this term.
Those issues increased concerns about his long-term fitness and future, and Pochettino admitted in September that Dembele’s game time needed to be managed.
But the 30-year-old has recaptured his best form lately and has started seven of the last eight games in all competitions.
He looks in better shape than he has done for a while. But, asked whether he feels that way, Dembele replied: “For me there’s not too much difference to be honest. I’ve always felt good. I had my injury before but felt good. Now I have more games and I’m happy with this.”
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