Aston Villa boss Unai Emery has told Tottenham that qualifying for the Champions League is far tougher than it was before.
Villa host Spurs on Saturday with the two sides still in the hunt for European football next season, but with hopes of claiming a top-four Premier League place all but over for both.
Tottenham – Champions League finalists in 2019 who reached the round of 16 this season – are sixth, six points behind fourth-placed Manchester United having played a game more.
Eighth-placed Villa’s late bid to break into the top four was ended by successive 1-0 away defeats to United and Wolves over the last fortnight.
“Their expectation in the beginning was to be in the top four,” ex-Arsenal boss Emery said of his former North London neighbours.
“It’s now more difficult than it was five to 10 years ago. There are now seven teams trying to be in the top four.
“Maybe Aston Villa now as well. It’s more difficult.”
Tottenham’s search for a first trophy since League Cup success in 2008 has seen them turn to Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte since Mauricio Pochettino’s departure in November 2019.
Neither Mourinho nor Conte, both perennial winners, could sprinkle their stardust on Spurs and caretaker boss Ryan Mason now has the task of trying to secure European football next season.
Mason’s three matches in charge so far have produced a win, a draw and a defeat, with the latest game being a 1-0 home victory over Crystal Palace.
Emery said: “Tottenham have had some problems in the last month but they have very good players.
“The last match they played against Palace they kept good balance tactically and they have very powerful players in the transition, being strong defensively.
“They have very good players who can make different tactical decisions.
“The last matches against them at home here, (Villa) have struggled and it’s now a challenge to get a good performance at home.
“We have to believe in our players, in our tactical way we are progressing. That is the match on Saturday.
“To play a great match, spirit and playing and trying to get at them. They have a three-goal difference with us but our mind is to be very competitive and to get better.”
Villa quartet Boubacar Kamara, Leon Bailey, Matty Cash and Philippe Coutinho are all available.
“It’s the first time in the last month we have everybody ready to be in the squad for Saturday,” Emery said.
“Only Jed Steer is out but Cash, Kamara, Bailey, Coutinho – in the last match they were in the squad but not ready 100 per cent to play.
“Some players are still not ready to play 90 minutes, but they’re ready to be in the squad and ready to play.”