Kyle Walker knows what a sprint finish looks like and he believes Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino has primed his players for one by adapting his training methods this season.
Spurs’ hopes of winning the Premier League may have faded but they are still in the hunt for two trophies, the FA Cup and the Europa League, as well as a second consecutive year qualifying for the Champions League.
But while Pochettino has transformed the club since his arrival almost three years ago, suspicions remain about the effect his high-octane style can have at the business end of a campaign.
In his last five full seasons in management, only once, at Southampton in 2014, has a Pochettino side’s points-per-game increased during their final 13 league matches. At Tottenham, the rate has always dropped.
Pochettino, however, is a progressive coach and Walker, the squad’s quickest player and third most used this term, believes his manager has adjusted to reduce fatigue.
“He’s made a few tweaks which I think has helped us recover a lot faster,” Walker told Press Association Sport.
“He’s cut down on some of the training sessions, we don’t train every day now, and with the intensity of the training sessions as well, he might not demand as much as he used to.
“He’s a great manager, he thinks about us as players and individuals. We’re quite happy to go and voice our opinion. If we’re a bit tired he says, ‘okay today is a bit of a down-day for you’.
“I can only speak for myself but I’ve still got a lot left in the tank this season. I still feel very fresh.”
Despite being only 26, Walker made his Tottenham debut seven years ago, in a 2-0 win against Portsmouth and as part of a defence that included Sebastien Bassong, Michael Dawson and a 20-year-old Gareth Bale.
Walker’s emergence was then in its infancy as loan spells followed at QPR and, most successfully, Aston Villa, while the theory remained that his speed compensated for a lack of awareness.
Under Pochettino, he has developed into one of the deadliest right-backs in Europe.
“People used to say I relied on my pace to get out of sticky situations but it’s like saying, ‘what if Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t have fast feet?'” said Walker, an ambassador for the 2017 McDonald’s Community Awards.
“Fast feet gets him out of situations, it’s one of his strengths, just like pace is one of mine.
“When I first hit the Premier League I was 21. It was my first season and people didn’t know what to expect.
“It’s not that you can’t fail but it’s like, everyone is so excited for you, you’re a young Englishman and everyone was buzzing for me.
“A couple of seasons after that, it got more difficult. People get to know you and they start talking about your strengths and weaknesses.
“Then the manager came in and the coaching he’s given me – about where I need to be on the field when the ball is in a certain area – it has definitely made me a better defender and a better player.”
Defence is only part of it, however, given Pochettino’s mantra is for his full-backs to attack and it is in this mindset that Walker has thrived, together with Danny Rose on the opposite flank.
Rose and Walker, each from Yorkshire and close friends off the pitch, both started out as forwards, Rose as an attacking midfielder at Leeds and Walker a striker at Sheffield United.
Walker leads Rose 6-3 on assists this season but trails in the goalscoring stakes, 2-0.
“I don’t think I’ve had a shot yet,” Walker said with a smile. “Let’s say he’s more selfish, we’ll put it down to that.”
There’s talk too about another exciting English full-back coming through at Spurs, Kyle Walker-Peters, the coincidentally named 19-year-old, who signed a new three-year deal earlier this month.
“I speak to Kyle on a daily basis, he’s always asking questions,” Walker said.
“He’s been fantastic playing in the reserves and whenever he’s trained with us he’s stood out to be honest. He deserves his new contract.”
So what has changed most during Walker’s seven years, four managers and 174 Premier League appearances at Tottenham?
“The culture,” Walker said. “When I first came in, it was all, ‘we might get Champions League, we might not’.
“But now we’ve turned that corner and we want more. Last season even though it was disappointing, it was a big learning curve.
“I feel the team we have now is perfect. We’ve got the players and the manager to go and do something special.”
Spurs host Gent in the Europa League at Wembley on Thursday looking to overturn a 1-0 deficit, before resuming their Champions League qualification chase on Sunday against Stoke.
They also sit level on 50 points with Arsenal – a first finish above their rivals since 1995, again, within their grasp.
“To finish above Arsenal would be fantastic but we’re not worried about them,” Walker said.
“When I first signed I said I wanted to win trophies and I want to do that here before my time is up.”
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