Mauricio Pochettino believes Premier League leaders Tottenham are genuine title contenders as he braces himself for a return to his former club as Chelsea boss on Monday.
Pochettino made his name as one of the world’s leading managers during his five years in charge of Spurs between 2014 and 2019.
He led the club to their first Champions League final and four consecutive top-four finishes in the Premier League.
However, the Argentine was not able to end Spurs’ trophy drought that stretches back to 2008.
Current Tottenham boss Ange Postecoglou is off to the best start of any new manager in the Premier League after taking 26 from a possible 30 points in his first 10 games.
Spurs have not won the English top flight since 1961, but Pochettino said they have to be taken seriously as contenders.
“Ange and the coaching staff, they are doing a fantastic job and then of course very good players, very good team,” said Pochettino. “You can feel they can be a contender.
“Of course it’s early in the season but they are showing the quality to be contenders.”
It remains to be seen what kind of reception awaits Pochettino at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Spurs had struggled badly in the time between his surprise sacking four years ago and the arrival of Postecoglou.
But his decision to return to the Premier League at a London rival has not gone down well with some sections of the Spurs support.
“The most important thing is people know that we cannot forget all that we lived together, amazing memories there,” he said.
“I am going to respect the people however they are going to express (their feelings), but it’s not going to change my emotion, my view, my feelings about a club that I think we spend an unbelievable journey (with).
“I am back after four years in a place that we have amazing memories, we created amazing memories together. I think it’s special, I’m not going to lie.”
Pochettino has not enjoyed such a special start to life at Stamford Bridge.
Despite another record splurge on new players in the transfer market, Chelsea sit 11th in the table, 14 points behind of Tottenham.
But the Blues could be boosted by the return of captain Reece James to the starting line-up in the Premier League for the first time since the opening weekend of the season.
James played the first hour of Wednesday’s 2-0 League Cup last-16 win over Blackburn.
“I think it was good for him to start the game and to feel him there again after a few months for the team, because he is our captain and he is a very important player,” added Pochettino.