Spurs face Ajax in the semi-final of Europea's premier club competition for the right to face Liverpool or Barcelona in the final in Madrid
Mauricio Pochettino says that whichever team includes Lionel Messi will be the favourite to win this season’s Champions League.

Tottenham form part of a surprise last-four line-up in this year’s competition, and will face Ajax for the right to play Liverpool or Messi’s Barcelona in the final in Madrid.

Spurs are the only one of the four never to have won the competition or played in the final, and reached this stage after a stunning away-goals victory over Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in the quarter-final.

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And Pochettino thinks there is a good balance among the teams left in the competition – but that one player could ultimately prove the difference.

“For me there is no favorite if we see what happened in the quarters,” he told Goal in an exclusive interview. “But personally, the favorite is the one that has Lionel Messi, and that one is Barca. If it were not like that, there would be 25 per cent chance for each semi-finalist.”

Spurs were beaten for the first time at their new stadium on Saturday, as Michail Antonio’s second-half goal condemned Pochettino’s team to a set-back in their bid to finish in the top four and return to the Champions League next season.

And the manager has been critical of the Premier League for their inflexibility in not allowing Spurs to ease up on their domestic fixtures ahead of facing Ajax.

“We are very focused in the Premier League these days, this Saturday we played against West Ham,” he said.

“We look askance at Ajax for now, we know them a lot. We are going to be pressured because we do not have a clean week to prepare for it, plus we played a derby and we do not know in what condition our players will be.

“In this moment of the competition and with a Champions semi-final, I think that all teams should have the same preparation days. If not, it's a disadvantage, but beware, it's not an excuse. I would say the same thing if it were the other way around for them.

“Sometimes we do not take into account that in England the clubs start with a disadvantage because we do not rest at Christmas, we play one more competition, we started the league a month before.”

Pochettino will be without both Harry Kane and Son Heung-min for Tuesday's first leg at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as he looks to see off a side that have already beaten Real Madrid and Juventus in the competition this season.