Three different years, three different managers – That’s been the unfortunate reality for Tottenham Hotspur since the exit of Redknapp in 2012. In Harry’s last year Spurs were a missed Arjen Robben Champions League final penalty away from rejoining the elite. The time since then has been a period of continuous transition. Two contenders have since tried and failed to stamp their mark. Enter: Mauricio Pochettino.
The Argentinean’s first season at Spurs was underwhelming for a lot of the time, but was peppered with some gold, such as the impressive wins over Arsenal and Chelsea, the run to the League Cup final and of course the meteoric rise of Harry Kane. Despite some people’s qualms about poor results in games against Stoke, Leicester and Palace among others, a fifth place finish in his first season is probably par for the course. However, trying to improve in year two is the daunting but achievable task he faces now. I look at two areas he can improve…
Strength in Numbers
One of the most impressive factors of Spurs’ season this year was the impact of the young players. Kane, Mason, Bentaleb, Dier, Rose and Eriksen – 6 of Spurs most regular performers have a combined age of 22.16. In the thrilling win against Arsenal, Spurs recorded the youngest team of the entire Premier League season, clocking in at 24 years 37 days. The bones of this team came together around November and played together consistently right through to February. The result was a fantastic run of form in the middle third of the season. Hugely admirable? Yes. It also bodes very well for the future. However, the problems arose when this team inevitably tired. The same 12 or 13 bodies were playing week in week out – it couldn’t last forever! The task in the New Year of tackling Premier League, Europa League, Capital One Cup and FA Cup proved too much and some poor results followed. A major part of the problem is that Pochettino had alienated almost half of his squad.
Kaboul, Lennon, Adebayor, Capoue, Chiriches, Paulinho, Stambouli and even Dembele were ghosts for much of the season. One or two players going AWOL is manageable by most squads but 8 is just too much. Rumours are that a dispute in the camp before Christmas caused a big divide and the result was a number of the senior players being left out in the cold. The younger players repaid this faith admirably but how many points this season were lost to a lack of depth?
Personally I trust Pochettino’s judgement, if he feels certain players aren’t going to contribute positively he has the right to keep them out, however it’s vital for him this summer that he rectifies the problems within the squad. With numerous players he’ll either have to sell, with the likes of Paulinho and supposedly Capoue and Stambouli leading the way, as soon as possible and replace carefully, or he’ll have to bury the hatchet with others and have them buy into his method. A team like Spurs chasing honours on four fronts needs a dense squad to do so.
Show some Flexibility
At 43 years old, Pochettino is young in managerial terms. To this point, he has succeeded in his career by playing a high-octane 4-2-3-1 formation with inverted wingers. This formation seems woven into his philosophy and has served him well in his career so far. However, if he is to make the jump from a good manager; which we know he is, to a great manager; which I think he can be, I feel he’ll have to show some tactical flexibility.
4-2-3-1 is the dish of the day in football at the moment. In many scenarios it provides perfect balance, and many of the strongest national teams use it as a way to shoe-horn four of their quality attackers onto the pitch at the one time. Germany have won the World Cup with it, Bayern have won a Champions League with it. The appeal is obvious. However, on many occasions, it’s just not for us.
For a 4-2-3-1 to work well you need 1) a goal poaching striker who is also a target man, 2) a number 10 who is the playmaker, 3) a dominant midfield duo, 4) and one winger; if not two, who hug the touchline to create space (Ideally with pace).
In Spurs we are blessed with perfect options for numbers 1 and 2 – Eriksen and Kane are made for the roles. However in areas 3 and 4 we sometimes fall down. In Bentaleb we have one of the finest young midfielders in world football, but at 20 years old, he’s just not ready to dominate midfields regularly just yet. Mason surpassed all my expectations this season, but I just think he comes up short. His effort is fantastic but the quality may just be lacking. Added to this, that pair are very lightweight, and struggled against more physical midfield partnerships. On the wings, I’m personally a big fan of Chadli and Lamela, but both players seem to fancy themselves as number 10s. They both constantly cut inside which makes the pitch so much narrower and as a result leaves far less room for Eriksen to dictate. Sometimes 4-2-3-1 is not the only way, or at least not always in that way.
Next season I’d like to see Pochettino try some new ideas. If Lamela is so adamant to play at 10, I’d love to see him played there, with Eriksen moved back to a Modric-esque position to dictate the game even more. Alternatively what about trying more natural wingers (e.g. right footed à right wing)? The additional width would really open up opposition defences.
If the insistence with Inverted wingers is to continue, then I’d love to see a 4-3-3 tried instead, where Eriksen would drop deeper as mentioned, and then even if our wingers cut inside, crowding would be less of an issue. Also, pace was often sorely lacking this season, a trial of Yedlin on the right wing or Townsend on the left may open up defences when we need to!
Lately we’ve heard rumours of moves for Monaco prodigy Anthony Martial moving to Spurs, however after signing a new contact recently with the Principality club, that deal looks dead in the water. The striker hunt hasn’t stopped there though, with rumours of Aston Villa powerhouse Christian Benteke being on Spurs radar – It’s clear that finding a striker capable of easing the goalscoring load of Harry Kane’s shoulders is of high interest to Spurs this Summer. However, both of the targets mentioned are natural strikers, for either to excel properly, our tactics would have to adapt to play two up front (much like Liverpool with Suarez and Sturridge) or else risking stunting the effectiveness of one of these players by shunting them out to the wing.
Despite their flaws, one of Sherwood and Redknapp’s great strength and Spurs was that they didn’t try to force their ideas on anyone… they adapted to what they had. I’m certainly not saying Pochettino should throw tactics to the wind, but a little more flexibility might go a long way.
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