Lionel Messi’s desire shows up Spurs’ display against Ajax, Pochettino says

• ‘If we play like him we have a chance to reach the final’
• Vertonghen did not suffer a concussion, neurologist confirms

Mauricio Pochettino has admitted he found Lionel Messi’s Champions League masterclass against Liverpool painful to watch because it highlighted how his Tottenham players had been found wanting in terms of desire in the first leg of their tie with Ajax.

Messi lit up Barcelona’s 3-0 semi-final, first-leg win over Liverpool at the Camp Nou on Wednesday with two goals – the second a sublime long-range free-kick – but, for Pochettino, what stood out was the work he did without the ball.

Twenty-four hours earlier the Spurs manager had seen his team make a false start against Ajax at the same stage of the competition, failing to bring anything like the required intensity to the opening period. They must overturn a 1-0 deficit in Amsterdam on Wednesday.

Before that, Spurs travel to Bournemouth for Saturday’s lunchtime Premier League kick-off, knowing victory would ensure a top-four finish for the fourth season in a row. Pochettino wants his players to follow the example of Messi.

“Messi is one of the gods of football – his desire to fight with the ball at his feet is unbelievable but it’s without the ball, too,” Pochettino said. “He’s a massive example. When he doesn’t have the ball, he has unbelievable character. It’s how he works for the team.

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“If we play like him in the second leg, for sure we are going to have a chance to reach the final. I’m not talking about doing what he does with the ball but without it, showing the desire that he had against Liverpool. If we don’t, we have no chance. If we play like we played in the first 20 minutes of the first leg, it’s difficult to have a chance.

“Ajax weren’t better than us but they were when they showed more desire than us. We need to show the same desire at Bournemouth – if not, it’s impossible to win. Wednesday will be the same. It is so painful when you see Messi’s desire in the other semi-final and you say: ‘Why weren’t we motivated in the same way?’”

Pochettino returned to the subject of Jan Vertonghen, who was forced out of the Ajax game on 39 minutes after a sickening clash of heads. The defender saw a neurologist on Thursday afternoon and it has been concluded that he did not suffer a concussion; rather a “presyncopal episode” – in other words, a near faint.

Spurs added: “The specialist has recommended that the player undertakes a brief period of rehabilitation before returning to training.” Vertonghen will not be involved against Bournemouth but he is expected to be in contention for the Ajax game.

“The most important thing for us is always the health of the player,” Pochettino said. “When I was at Southampton and there was the situation of Hugo Lloris being concussed against Romelu Lukaku at Everton in 2013, we used this clip to talk with the players and the staff – and give all the power to the medical staff to take the decisions. I explained to the players they can say whatever they want on the pitch but the bosses are the medical staff.”