Now that Mauricio Pochettino has officially become Tottenham manager, the work to mold a team begins. Much has been made of the swashbuckling style of Southampton’s play under the Argentine coach. And Spurs fans will be expecting to see a similar approach from Tottenham next season. In fact, given the belief that Tottenham’s squad is better than Southampton, Spurs fans will be expecting good football AND good results. The question is, will Pochettino be able to establish this style of play at White Hart Lane and does he have the players to do it?
Here is a look at what a Pochettino Spurs team might look like.
Generally speaking, Pochettino plays a 4-2-3-1 formation but there are a couple of tweaks that I’ll get to later. Starting at the back:
There is nothing particularly special here and Lloris is likely to be an upgrade on Boruc. One slight issue may be Lloris’ tendency to rush out and sweep as this was not a hallmark of Boruc’s play. Should Lloris leave, somebody like Stoke’s Asmir Begovic would be a decent replacement.
Although Southampton’s high pressing game has been discussed at length, this does not extend to the centre-backs playing a high line. Generally speaking, first choice center backs Dejan Lovren and Jose Fonte stay quite deep while the full backs, Clyne and Shaw push up.
For Tottenham, this may mean that players like Michael Dawson and Younes Kaboul will not be left as exposed as they were under Andre Villas-Boas. In fact, none of the Tottenham’s center backs are particularly blessed with pace so this may be a welcome change. I would guess that should Kaboul be fit, Pochettino will go for Kaboul and Jan Vertonghen here.
At full-back, Kyle Walker seems a shoe in if he is fit as he is exactly the kind of high energy, attacking full back that Pochettino seems to like. On the other side, Danny Rose has come in for much flack this season but he seems a decent fit at left back. Although Rose’s is clearly more comfortable going forwards than backwards, some of his defensive errors last season were in part due to a lack of awareness from the centre backs and a general lack of cohesion at the back. As a former centre back himself, Pochettino should be able to help Tottenham improve in this area.
This will probably be Pochettino’s biggest problem. At Southampton Pochettino used a two man central midfield of Morgan Schneiderlin plus either Jack Cork or Victor Wanyama. While Tottenham have plenty of players of a similar build to Wanyama – Sandro, Etienne Capoue, Moussa Dembele – the Kenyan always seemed to be the weak link. Southampton often looked better with Cork in the side instead of the Kenyan. Should Pochettino decide he needs a Wanyama-type, the above trio are all better than Wanyama and should have no trouble slotting in.
The bigger issue is finding players similar to Cork and Schneiderlin. Both are energetic, agile and disciplined; capable of distributing the ball quickly, but also effective defensively. Spurs don’t really have anybody that fits this mold particularly well. The best fit may be Lewis Holtby but he doesn’t quite have the discipline and likes to get forward and create. Paulinho may be another option here but he too has a tendency to leave his position and look for goals. Perhaps Pochettino can teach these players to be more disciplined, otherwise he may have to bring somebody in from outside.
This is an interesting area of the pitch for Southampton as it tends to be pretty fluid. Instead of thinking about positions on the pitch it may be more useful to think of player roles. Perhaps the most talked about player for Saints last season was Adam Lallana. Lallana would often start on the right wing but essentially he had a free role as a creator. He would drift across the pitch to make sure players had a passing option in the final third and looked for opportunities to play an incisive pass or take a shot.
For this position Tottenham have an ideal like for like player in Christian Eriksen. This is almost identical to the role Eriksen was given under Tim Sherwood and he should thrive if given similar freedom under Pochettino. The one difference – and it may be a significant difference – is that Lallana is better defensively than Eriksen. Under Pochettino, Eriksen will almost certainly be asked to press hard to win the ball back in the final third, not a particular strength of the Danish technician.
Jay Rodriguez’ role was very different to that of Lallana. Rodriguez would tend to start on the left but his main task was to make good runs past the defenders and score goals. His main attributes seem to be his tireless running, decent eye for goal and ability to run into space. Here, Spurs do not have a clear like for like. The closest fits would probably be Nacer Chadli and Erik Lamela but both of these players tend to prefer having the ball at their feet. My feeling is that Pochettino will try to fit Lamela into this position to make the best of his talent but there is a chance that Pochettino will either have to tweak his game plan or bring in somebody new.
The final attacking midfield position is that of Steven Davis, the forgotten man of the Southampton midfield. Davis often reminds me of Dirk Kuyt or James Milner, a player that is solid and unspectacular but often crucial to the functioning of the team. When Southampton attack he provides an extra body running forward but he is always aware of the need to tuck in when defending.
For Spurs his role may be the most difficult to replicate as what it requires is somebody who has lots of stamina, is reasonably effective in attack and defense and perhaps most importantly, is willing to sacrifice their own glory for that of the team. The closest fit here is probably Gylfi Siggurdson though he may have to improve his defensive contribution. Lewis Holtby, Paulinho and Moussa Dembele may also be able to fulfill this role but their respective ego’s would have to take a significant backward step.
Up front, Pochettino tended to use Rickie Lambert or the youngster Sam Gallagher. Both are big strong players but Lambert in particular is very adept at bringing others into the attack. Although often decried as some kind of lumbering giant type forward (a la Andy Carroll), Rickie Lambert’s ability to hold up the ball and bring others into play has been key for Southampton. Scoring goals is of course important as well but he is far from a pure goal scorer.
Here, Emmanuel Adebayor and Harry Kane both seem to fit the bill fairly well. Roberto Soldado however, does not. Although the Spanish striker is underrated in his ability to lay off the ball and play quick one-two’s, he struggles to hold up the ball effectively. If Pochettino is looking for a Lambert type up front, Tottenham’s record signing may struggle to get in the team.
So based on Pochettino’s team at Southampton, here is my tentative guess at how Tottenham will line up come August:
Generally, Pochettino seems to prize agility and quickness (rather than speed) so players like Holtby and Lamela may be favoured over bigger, stronger players like Dembele and Chadli. Character also seems important to the Argentine so any players who fail to show the requisite dedication are likely to find themselves on the bench (or even out of the club) fairly quickly.
Of course, several of the above team may no longer be at the club come August and several new players may also be on Spurs’ books. Whatever happens, Pochettino has a big job on his hands to find his best team and keep non-first team players happy. If he succeeds, Spurs could turn some heads next season and Pochettino’s stock will rise once again. If he fails or even fails to succeed at the required pace, he needs only to look at the long list of sacked Tottenham managers to know what awaits.