When Mauricio Pochettino arrived in England to replace Nigel Adkins at Southampton, everybody asked why. Why was an English manager ousted from a job he appeared to be doing well? Why bring in a manager recently sacked having taken Espanyol to the bottom of La Liga?
Now, after the Argentine led a Saints cruise to Premier League safety in 2012/13, before guiding them to eighth place in exhilarating fashion last term – resulting in the sale of three players for nearly £60m – it’s clear that former St Mary’s supremo Nicola Cortese knew what he was up to.
Having yet to sign a player this summer, starkly in contrast with 12 months ago when seven seniors arrived, Tottenham Hotspur’s best piece of business looks to have been done before the transfer window even opened.
Pochettino’s coaching philosophy can be traced to new Marseille manager Marcelo Bielsa, under whom he played at Espanyol and with the Argentina national team around the turn of the last century.
Pressing with intensity
Eplindex.com identified four categories that cover the multitude of ‘pressing triggers’ utilised by Pochettino at Southampton and Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool, who is also said to be a Bielsa-ite, along with FC Bayern’s Pep Guardiola and Chile coach Jorge Sampaoli, to name four of many:
Attacking team are not organised/yet to transition into a shape that supports ball retention.
Opponent’s conditions for control are not present/yet to be created (e.g. the ball is loose from a poor touch, or bouncing, or swirling in the wind, or slow from a backpass.)
Patterned traps (the example given is of Southampton forcing Liverpool to the edge of their left-hand touchline near the half-way line, ensuring they had nowhere to go and making them powerless to dispossession, in their shock 1-0 win at Anfield last September.)
Pressure in relation to risk (that is, when to use man-to-man pressing, option-based pressing – which attempts to force the ball into a certain area – or zonal pressing.)
In Hugo Lloris, Spurs have one of the best high-line keepers in the world, but their playing style has been confused by the swashbuckling tactics of Harry Redknapp and Tim Sherwood sandwiching Andre Villas-Boas’ largely turgid tenure, Gareth Bale excepted.
Lloris aside, the Spurs squad has plenty of question-marks hanging over it and it will be interesting to see how the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor, who clearly has attitude issues, and Christian Eriksen, who’s blessed with more skill than pace and perhaps energy, fit into Pochettino’s plan.
But at least the man has a plan.
Round pegs in round holes, squares in squares
Whoever identified the seven summer 2013 purchases, whether it was Franco Baldini, Daniel Levy or Andre Villas-Boas, must take the blame for overloading some areas and overlooking others.
Spurs’ defence, in particular, last term was often shocking, with no recognised left-back at the club, poor combinations at centre-half and Etienne Capoue drafted in from midfield on occasion, when he wasn’t injured.
Rumours that Pochettino is courting Swansea left-back Ben Davies should be music to Lilywhites ears, but a subsequent move for a statuesque-but-mobile centre-half must also be in the offing.
A repeat of his Southampton signing of Dejan Lovren would be the obvious solution – although the Croatian looks Liverpool-bound – with the other personnel priority at Spurs being adding firepower to the centre-forward ranks.
However, with a surfeit of midfielders and wingers in situ, Pochettino’s biggest challenge will be working his St Mary’s magic on the likes of Aaron Lennon, Andros Townsend, Nabil Bentaleb, Erik Lamela and Nacer Chadli.