Football Features

Four ways Pochettino should change to save Spurs’ Premier League season

By Nick Thompson

Published: 22:00, 28 March 2019 | Updated: 17:18, 29 September 2019

After staying within touching distance of Man City and Liverpool for much of the season – no matter how improbably – the mood now around the Spurs team is mixed after a succession of poor results, even if they are about to move into their new stadium.

With just a point’s worth of day light between themselves and Arsenal, as well as three losses in their last five and with tough back-to-back away ties against league contenders Liverpool and City to come, the situation is liable to get worse before it gets better.

So with that said, here are four things Pochettino should change to save Spurs’ league campaign.

1. Change his big-game approach

Pochettino needs to adopt a more pragmatic approach to the big games coming up against City and Liverpool, teams he would probably admit are that bit better at the moment.

Historically under Pochettino, and this season as well, Spurs rarely set up to spoil things and sit back to counterattack, instead believing that their brand of possession-based, fluid attacking football will be enough.

That sort of confidence is good and is a testament to the manager’s insistence on his philosophy, but there comes a point where, if two sides do it better like City and Liverpool do, something must change.

Spurs have seven points out of a possible 24 against the big six this season, only United have fared worse with six points, having played the same number of games (8). And Spurs have won just once away from home against the top six since a 2-1 win over Manchester City in February 2016, and they’ve only beaten Liverpool at Anfield twice in the Premier League era.

The answer must be to set up differently. Spurs often try to play expansive, high-pressing football irrespective of the opposition and can be punished for it, but away against Dortmund the players showed they can sit back, putting in a dogged performance with a low-block while still getting the win on the night courtesy of a Kane goal.

That performance needs to be the blueprint in the next two crunch games if points are to be picked up, especially as the team is demonstratively running less now (registering a season low of 107km against Southampton) than it was in the middle of the season.

2. Sort out Spurs’ game management

Playing for draws or lucky wins in Spurs’ big matches against Man City and Liverpool will mean they have to pick up maximum points elsewhere.

And to do this, they need to stop dropping them during the closing stages of games. No Premier League team has conceded a higher percentage of their goals in the second half than Spurs (74%).

They have also regularly surrendered winning positions, more than any other top-six side. Spurs have the fifth-worst record in the Premier League overall on this front.

Here, Pochettino must change to place a greater emphasis on closing out games, while doing what he can to support the team in achieving this using substitutes, specifically adding in defenders and holding midfielders earlier (Wanyama or Dier, when fit).

3. Stick to a back four

Due to a glut of injuries and games piling up, Poch has shuffled the pack as much as he can in recent months and switched the formation often too; as many as six formations have been used in the last eight games.

As much as this out of necessity, it feels as though Spurs are at a point in their season where formation uniformity should be cherished over continual tinkering. Not only have goals dried up and the number of goals conceded risen, but in their most recent game against Southampton the number of expected goals for the opposition was 2.1 while the number Spurs were expected to score dipped to 1.15. This was simply a continuation of the trend from the previous games.

Pochettino should change to (and stick with) a back-four formation, preferably the 4-3-2-1, especially against the title challengers, to see the best of his defence and to ensure they don’t have much desire to get forward, to rein in some of the more errant marking of Trippier and Aurier in the right-back position and to reinstall some midfield solidity.

Spurs are yet to drop points (in four games) using a 4-3-2-1 formation, and have only lost once (against Liverpool) in a 4-3-1-2 (in four games), both of which seem to provide good protection for a defence that has leaked seven in four, while also masking Spurs’ lack of an elite defensive midfielder. Eric Dier, if fit and playing drops into the defence when the team is in possession or the full-backs bomb on, providing some of the structural flexibility of the back three without the midfield limitations. If not it is up to Harry Winks to sit in as Sissoko and Eriksen maraud forward.

4. Avoid going full Mourinho in press conferences

A month ago Pochettino said Burnley away was a must-win for his players to show they were real title contenders, as a win would have meant the title was in their hands. Only, the club lost 2-1, leading the Argentine to say a title challenge could be 10 years away, or as long as it took for the players’ mentality to strengthen.

There is a very good argument to be made that neither point needed to be made; Pochettino didn’t need to challenge his players to win at Burnley in such a stakes raising way, nor did he have to put the dream of a Premier League title beyond the likely Tottenham careers of all the current first-teamers.

The 10-year remark could demoralise some of the big players at the club and make them think about their futures, with the likes of Eriksen now pushing into their late 20s.

Poch clearly wants to strike a balance between aspiration and realism, feeling Spurs’ over-performance gets lost on people due to their proximity to the top of the table, but it’s clear his players hang on his every word, and so he needs to cut the drastic verbal swings out.

That said, he has been very positive about the new stadium and, in an interview on the pitch as Tottenham U18s took on Southampton U18s, he sounded every bit a man cognisant of the impact new the ground will have, and someone committed to the cause.

“We all feel the same, so excited, I got the same feeling when we left White Hart Lane on the last day, we were crying and now in the first day in the new stadium we feel the same emotion,” Pochettino said.

“We need to cry because our dream became true.”