Among all of the hysteria surrounding a derby day win against Arsenal, and the plaudits seemingly going to one man named Harry Kane, there is another who has been shunned from the limelight – Mauricio Pochettino.
He deserves as much credit as anyone for the recent turnaround at Tottenham Hotspur. The Argentinean tactician has given chances to the likes of Ryan Mason, Nabil Bentaleb and man of the moment Kane, but there is a reason for that – they have bought into his system, and without that system Spurs would not be where they are now.
Players like Etienne Capoue, Paulinho, Younes Kaboul, Emmanuel Adebayor and Aaron Lennon have not taken to the high-press like some of the younger hands have, which is why they have fallen to the fringes of the squad when youth team products have been thrust into the fray. Not only have they fared better than their veteran counterparts, they’ve added another dimension to the squad that had been lacking for years – desire and guile.
That’s not to say past Spurs squads didn’t have desire, that would be offensive to some of them. But the passion, energy levels, fitness and drive have all been at another level this season, especially since the November international break, and that is down to two factors – belief from the players and belief from the manager in those players. Even players like Jan Vertonghen, who had been drifting away from Spurs mentally over the past year now looks like the Vertonghen of old, which is to say a commanding central defender with the ability to play Pochettino’s style with aplomb. The former Southampton manager has forged the desire within the squad, so they believe they can beat anybody at anytime, anywhere.
Even though this Spurs squad still has problems – namely the lack of depth in many key positions, especially defensive midfield – the emergence of Mason, Bentaleb and Kane into a bonafide star is down to Pochettino’s tactics and his trust in young players. Spurs would be nowhere this season without those players.
That’s not to say youth is the only reason why Tottenham have done so well. New players and older hands have all combined to make the system work, especially Christian Eriksen and Nacer Chadli. However, even the heavily criticized Erik Lamela, whose end product isn’t always there but his energy levels and pressing most certainly is. Most of those players started slow, but have worked their way into becoming players who Pochettino can rely on every match day. Even players like Andros Townsend, Danny Rose and Vlad Chiriches have shown flashes of brilliance throughout the season and contributed at pivotal moments.
His emphasis on fitness has also paid massive dividends. Injuries have almost been non-existent this season, and all of the late goals are no accident. They are a direct result of being able to continue at such a pace when the opponent has dropped off considerably. So long as Spurs are in the game, there is always a chance they will snatch points away at the death because of how fit they are.
Getting the right mix at Spurs was always going to be a challenge, and Pochettino found out how big of a challenge it was going to be with the bumpy start to the season. But as the critical month of February carries on his new look Tottenham side has gained him admirers, and turned Spurs faithful into believers in his coaching methods.
When your team has lost only three games in total since November 9, something is going right for you. Pochettino, take a bow.
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