How Will Pochettino's Spurs Side Line-Up Next Season?
With Mauricio Pochettino confirmed as Spurs’ latest manager how he will look to set up Spurs next term? The continuity in his style of play has translated over from Espanyol to Southampton and seems likely to be a starting place to understand what he will attempt to bring to his Spurs side.
In terms of formation both Southampton and Espanyol lined up in a 4-2-3-1 in nearly every fixture of Pochettino’s tenure. Pochettino’s team will likely ditch the 4-4-2 imposed by predecessor Tim Sherwood and return to the favoured formation of Andre Villas-Boas. The formation, which features two central midfielders with considerable defensive responsibilities, was criticised by some as being too negative. However, this formation was used by Southampton, Everton and Manchester City for stretches of last season and they produced some of the most attractive football in the league.
Pochettino’s philosophy is said to have been what attracted Levy to chose him over Frank De Boer and Rafa Benitez. De Boer’s Ajax plays the modern tiki-taka whilst Benitez is the arch-pragmatist who sets his team up to win with precise tactical instructions based on the opponent. Pochettino’s ideas are influenced by Marcelo Bielsa and centred on pressing in numbers high up the pitch, compressing play with a high defensive line, playing out from the back and then swiftly forward in the opposition half. The results are that this produces an attractive style with his teams rarely dominated. It does however have two major pitfalls. Playing a high line requires excellent organisation and the correct personnel – the lack of either can lead to disaster. The intense pressing also means that Pochettino’s teams have run out of steam and opposition teams have exploited this with Southampton dropping more points from wining positions than any other team.
In terms of personnel there are those who will benefit from Pochettino’s appointment and others who will likely leave. In defence Jan Vertonghen should be a mainstay and prosper under the new manager with his technical ability and proclivity to carry the ball out of defence. Vlad Chiriches should also continue his promising development. In Pochettino’s system the full-backs are as much a part of the attacking unit as the defensive which should suit Kyle Walker. Elsewhere Michael Dawson could well be moved on with Hull and Crystal Palace reportedly circling. Danny Rose was a weak link that even Sherwood could identify, although may be retained as back-up. The defence needs a partner for Jan Vertonghen who is more technically proficient than Dawson and more reliably fit than Younes Kaboul as well as a top-class attacking left-back.
The double pivot in Pochettino’s Southampton has been filled by Morgan Schneiderlin and either the dominating but erratic Victor Wanyama or the solid but unimposing Jack Cork. Spurs options for central midfield are queuing up around the block with Moussa Dembele, Sandro, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue, Lewis Holtby, Nabil Bentaleb and Tom Carroll all vying for a role. Each player has virtues with Dembele and Sandro previously forming the base of Villas-Boas’ 4-2-3-1, Paulinho brings added goal threat whilst Capoue’s passing is superior. Holtby brings added energy whilst Carroll and Bentaleb are technically sound and provide safety in possession akin to Cork and would be far less likely to kick up a fuss if regularly benched. Pochettino’s challenge is to find stable pair that balances security with dynamism and perhaps to be brave enough to sell one or two of the others.
Saints’ attacking midfield trio this year was, for most the season, comprised of Jay Rodriguez, Adam Lallana and either James Ward-Prowse or Steven Davies. Lallana’s role has been described as a free one and whilst this may be true in attack – he does have licence to pop up just about anywhere – he is incredibly hard-working when Southampton weren’t in possession. Christian Eriksen seems favourite for this role with his creativity one of the few bright spots of Sherwood’s reign. However, the Dane does not bring the intensity of pressing that Lallana does and may be fielded on the left where his crossing can continue to wreak havoc as Ward-Prowse’s did from Southampton’s right. This may free up the central slot for Gylfi Sigurdsson, Lewis Holtby or Nacer Chadli all of whom exhibit greater work ethic than Eriksen but with less of his creative vision.
Out wide Rodriguez’s role has been to attack as a secondary forward from the left drifting between the lines and even beyond Rickie Lambert in attack. This is a role which may well have been ear-marked for Erik Lamela. After a hugely disappointing first season it may be that Levy has turned to an Argentinean partially in hopes of getting the best out of the talented Lamela. As a warning there are parallels here with Gaston Ramirez who, as a fellow South American, was expected to thrive under Pochettino but this has not been the case.
Up front Lambert started most games under Pochettino with brief stints for the mercurial Dani Osvaldo and blooding youngster Sam Gallagher. Emmanuel Adebayor is similar to Lambert in his tendency to drift wide as well as ability to win and hold the ball up however the Togolese has an extra yard of pace. Another feature of Lambert’s play is some excellent one touch play around the box which Roberto Soldado has shown glimpses of this season. Adebayor is a more complete striker than Soldado but is a notoriously difficult character. Pochettino has shown he can get the best out of maverick central forwards with Osvaldo at Espanyol before completely failing to repeat this with Osvaldo at Southampton.
Pochettino’s favoured formation and philosophy seems to be one which has the most of the components to mesh well with the current Spurs squad. He will have some difficult decisions to make in trimming a bloated squad whilst adding a couple of quality recruits. Pochettino arrives at in the fortunate position where the raw materials to execute his vision are already there waiting for him.