Pochettino Can’t Take A Break This Fortnight

On Friday my granddaughter asked me who my favourite Spurs player was. I had to think for a moment, then told her it was Hugo Lloris. She persisted. “Not a goalkeeper granddad.” I guess keepers aren’t the men to spark the imagination of a 9 year old these days, whereas when I was her age Pat Jennings was a superhero to me, with gravity-defying leaps and brave deeds, saving the team when all else had failed, week after week. She’ll learn.

I paused. To be honest, I could not think of an answer. It’s telling that while I see the positives in almost all of our players, no one stands out. Eriksen has the potential but has not kicked on this season and is not yet able to make a midfield sing to his own tune and has not kicked on so far this season. Lamela is the hero we crave but has not found a way past the posse of opponents who descend on him the instant he gets the ball at his feet. The rest are much of a muchness, although I have the utmost respect for Kaboul’s Kaptain Kourageous efforts recently. No point in looking to any of our strikers for inspiration.

Yesterday’s narrow win against Southampton was well-crafted and decidedly unspectacular. Right now, seems we can’t have both and yesterday the full spectrum of positives and negatives were on display. Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham will be organised and hard-working rather than relying on inspiration and we did well enough against a team who are themselves disciplined and solid. Yet it’s the star men, the favourites, who will provide those moments of inspiration that turn solid into solid gold. Eriksen played in fits and starts again, good touches without taking over for periods. Yet he has the ability to win the game, seizing on one of our few chances and finding the bottom corner of the net from just outside the box. Well set up by Adebayor and Chadli, this was a rare example of quick passing matched by good positional sense running movement off the ball.

Pochettino knows this. He’s known for press and run rather than push and run but he’s consistently picked attack-minded players like Lamela, Eriksen and Chadli. Many are grumbling that Spurs are not exciting to watch. That’s less about tactics or philosophy and more about the growing pains of yet another new side under yet another new manager.

Poch plays attack-minded men and likes to keep the ball moving, in a forward direction if at all possible. Full-backs are encouraged to get forward too, although we didn’t see so much of this yesterday. It’s just that it’s taking time to get the message across. This was what, 11 or 12 games in. There are signs of stability – strength and understanding in the back four, pressing together early on then falling back later for protection, the key there being the word ‘together’.

Indeed, we seem happier falling back and hitting back on the counter. Our best attacks came on the break with men piling forward.

Some individuals are flourishing too. Capoue is proving to be a fine DM, eating up the ground and using fine positional sense to plug the gaps. He’s a natural defensive midfielder. There’s Kaboul as skipper and Danny Rose the revelation. Another excellent game nearly curtailed because he built up a number of fouls after the referee harshly booked him earlier, that warranted a lengthy ‘one more and you’re off’ lecture. Lloris outstanding, pink must be his colour. Faultless on his line and in the air. You’d think he could a ball after all these years, but no. You’d think somebody at the club wouldn’t need a UEFA ‘A’ license to teach him how to do it. Mason good yesterday too. As I said last week, he’s young so I forgive him his mistakes if he keeps working and trying to get things going, as he did yesterday. On several occasions he and he alone instigated a bit of pass and move. Others take note.

Further forward there are problems turning defence into attack. For Eriksen and Lamela, see above. Townsend and Lennon when deployed on the ‘wrong’ side get swallowed up too easily.

Lots of criticism of Adebayor focusses on his workrate but what’s missing is goals. That’s what strikers do, I thought. Sure, these days they have to do more. Yesterday towards the end of the game he was tired but won applause, rightly so, for single-handedly worrying the Saints back four as they attempted to play the ball out. He began the move that led to the goal, significantly from wide left where he can drift away for markers and open up space in the middle. All good. He failed either to hold up the ball or link with the midfield, poor overall in that respect.

However, he was no danger to anybody in the box and neither for that matter was anyone else, apart from one Chadli effort where he hit the inside of the post. With his current form you expected him to score and certainly he looks much more useful to the team if he’s released from at least some of his covering duties.

This lack of punch in the box is the biggest single issue Pochettino has to ponder over during the international break. Defensively we look stronger. Kaboul and Vertonghen were solid and determined throughout and we defended a series of set-pieces, usually coming from free-kicks unnecessarily conceded, pretty well. Also, as per last week, we drop back to four in midfield as he second half progressed. That worked well too, especially with Mason and Capoue’s hard work and intelligent positional sense.

We’re not making enough chances. We don’t get the ball from midfield to the feet or head of men in the box, whether it’s by through-ball or cross. He has little to work with, another infuriating legacy of the botched transfer policy that leaves us little alternative but to play Manu every week.

Early days. It is, I’m afraid, and we will have to put up with many more tension-filled endings like yesterday’s where despite a decent performance the lack of spark meant we never got away from our opponents. Saints missed a golden chance to equalise near the end.

Without big performances from the few with star quality, we will have to rely on teamwork. Slowly the message is getting over. Not to everyone. Yesterday Jason Burt in the Telegraph reported that ‘senior players’ were unhappy with Pochettino’s regime. Then again ‘senior players’ un-named of course, have supposedly been unhappy at the club under the last four managers.

More likely it’s a sign Pochettino does not have the players he really wants. Younger men respond to him because they are more willing to do his bidding, hence Mason embracing the opportunity presented to him. Otherwise, we have too many widemen in a side that gets width from the full-backs and a number of hard-running but not overly creative midfielders. And too few striking options.

I was too busy to write about the Besiktas match, or perhaps in the end I just couldn’t be bothered. So here it is: Spurs reserves aren’t very good. Who knew?

Pochettino rested his first choice team because before most of us he realised the full significance of the match against Southampton, for him and more importantly for Spurs. To me, another game along the road, to the media the benchmark of Tottenham’s progress. That we became a footnote on the back pages as Wenger and Mourinho slugged it out proves how important that win was. It eases the pressure as he works to develop the squad and the system. Something to build on, plenty to do, but better we do it away from the unflattering bright lights of the full media glare.

Finally, sad for Kyle Naughton. In the team on merit, handling the stick with admirable phlegmatic calm, now out for some time. Get well soon.

19 thoughts on “Pochettino Can’t Take A Break This Fortnight

  1. Hello Alan.
    Baby steps indeed, but steps forward anyway.
    The worrying thing for me is that Southampton looked like a team who are a few blocks further up the road with regard to playing as a unit than we are.
    A little hard to fathom considering the summer they’ve just experienced.
    Our players suffer from a confidence problem, the defence offers chances to the opposition under the slightest provocation, the perfectly weighted backheel from kaboul gifting a direct shot on goal was pure indecision. (He’s better than that)
    Yesterday was however ok for now, even though we were lucky to take three points.
    Regarding Lloris, he gets better all the time.
    I wish him luck after his inevitable transfer to a CL club at the end of this season.
    Let’s hope Vorm provides as good an understudy as Barry Daines did for Big Pat.

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    • Interesting that you see this as steps forward, however small they may be. There was an alternative view of the game, which was that we’re not making any progress at all, as shown by the lack of fluency up in attack and the mistakes at the back you mentioned, which I should have made more of in the piece. I tried to show these two sides, it’s where we are and part of the painful process of getting a team together. Good and bad, at the same time. We can’t carry on like this indefinitely but Poch needs more time to sort it. Gonna be painful to watch though, and I’m not convinced he has the players he wants, never mind the striking issue.

      And not the time to remind me that selling Jennings to Arsenal thinking we had a capable replacement in Daines was one of the biggest transfer blunders in my time watching Spurs 😉

      Cheers, Alan

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  2. well written and thought out , tho very ominous piece ! selling Dawson was a mistake and not trying harder to blend sandro into the team ethic should have been given till the next window before giving up on him !! , 75 per cent of the working population would be fired on the spot if they were guilty of as big a c— up as the chaiman not buying at least one striker ! I,m tempted to say that Poch told Levy he didn’t need one (or two!!) but I really don’t want to start making him culpable already ! but we believe what we believe!!

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    • Thanks. Maybe not so ominous but some things are in the balance. Cannot fathom how and why we did not buy one or two strikers. Huge mistake. Suspect we had something lined up on deadline day (Welbeck?) but were surprised and had no contingency plans. Poch employed by Levy because he plays the game and doesn’t kick up a fuss. I would not have sold Daws.

      Regards, Alan

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  3. Good write up Alan.
    Just so glad we won, even if it was ugly at times, the signs that we are improving are there.
    If we can concentrate a little more at the back, I can be sure that I wont have a heart attack watching us make silly mistakes and make my blood pressure go up😳
    Keep up the good work Alan

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  4. Love the intensity and thoughtfullness of the writing Alan.
    Poch had to be man of la Matcha,to dream the impossible dream and get the boys playing with verve and structure after some other iffy performances.
    The system takes time to hold. Probably AVB needed more time but his build ups were so slow he probably needed years.
    Poch is determined I think.More determined than AVB was. I find he doesnt blame,he just gets back on his horse and works it.
    It isnt perfect,it wont be for a while but Rose has been a tremendous revelation or at least morphed into one,Naughton accented that well,the CB’s solid and Capoue majestic in defence of Pochs position.
    Eriksen no doubt runs and finds space and sees opportunity but I keep wishing he were David Silva.Thats why he dissapoints me so much. I expect something not so obvious but he only does obvious.Ade gets a hard rap all around and certainly does he best work outside of the box and we need a striker but I cans ee Chadli working past the 10 and into the 9. He pushes up and finds the ball.He just has to get a bit sharper that way.he can certainly shoot but he hasnt been a 9 but could be. Lamela is growing and is finding the defences respectful of him and they are getting physical but he has the ability to find space. By beating the first man the whole field will open up for him and it will.
    Mason looks the business.He goes that extra mile.Better than Bentaleb who is more conservative.Mason learns quicker.
    Think there are some good players on the second team too.Stamboulli has potential and should get games and Ilike and Fazio looks steady and could be the replacement for Kaboul.Kaboul is a bull.He looks huge and tough back there and has done well ans the Captain. But Fazio should get a few games in the top team.
    It does take time for the system to work but players also have to get their hearts into the game.They comes with belief.We saw it in their eyes when we played Arse (conservative but with sure ness) and we saw it expand with the Southampton game.
    Its a roller coaster of sorts and lets hooe its 2 forward and one back and not the other way around.But I have faith in Poch even though its trying some times.

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    • Nicely written backatcha. Right about the lot at the back. Eriksen is one of my favourites but beginning to get frustrating as not making a consistent impact on the game. He of all of them has the talent to do so, not unrealistic. He’s no Silva for sure. Mason impressive – I like players who take their chance. Back to Rose and Naughton again. Perhaps we have to wait until players are older, 22 or 23 before they come through.

      Regards, Al

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  5. Great read Alan. I was encouraged, yet also a touch concerned by our performance against Southampton.

    I wrote when we hired Pochettino that it was an appointment that excited me, but also filled me with a great deal of trepidation and I feel that’s where we are right now and also what we saw against Southampton.

    Sometimes you do need to ride your luck in games and we did that, but I felt we played with much better energy, player and ball movement. There were some very encouraging signs to build on and some positive steps from recent performances.

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    • Thanks SF. Encouraged and concerned, think that’s exactly it. Needs time to work it out. And of course Poch is learning too, not that experienced as a manager, don’t know how that will turn out either…

      Regards, Alan

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  6. Hi Alan
    Fascinated by your comment:
    “Lloris outstanding, pink must be his colour. Faultless on his line and in the air. You’d think he could ___ a ball after all these years, but no. You’d think somebody at the club wouldn’t need a UEFA ‘A’ license to teach him how to do it.”

    Trying my best to insert the most appropriate verb in there, as his catching, anticipation, kicking (especially from ground level), all look pretty good to me. I was considering “have”, but that didn’t really fit… Could it be: “throw”? After all he rarely appears to generate forward movement other than with his feet.

    Do spill the bean!

    cheers

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  7. I think I generally agree about Eriksen.By now he should have kicked on and be more influential on games,maybe he’s too lightweight for the Prem.David Silva he’s not.
    Also for a good deadball artist am I alone in thinking his corners are terrible.It amazes me the number of well paid professionals who cannot clear the first defender,and they keep doing it.
    A striker or two are definitely required in January.I’m not a fan of Ade and I feel sorry for Soldado,but he doesn’t get enough service on the rare occasions he makes the first team.Frankly we have too many players of a type who aren’t good enough.Please let Paulinho go ASAP,he’s clearly not happy and not trying.

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    • Paulinho I have given up on. Such high hopes after the Confederations Cup. The corners are terrible – need some of that kicking practice with Lloris.

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  8. A fine analysis Alan.

    Thought the most impressive thing about the game, result aside, was that we seemed to be trying to play some football according to a plan.

    The biggest problem is up front. Watching Berba score in the video highlights before the Besiktas game reminded me of how sorely lacking we are in this area. For all the good work Manu does for the team, a striker is rightly ultimately judged on goals scored. Not nearly good enough there.

    This will be our biggest problem this season – where are the goals coming from…?

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    • Yes, think there is a plan emerging, not sure all the players have bought into it fully. Suspect Poch wants more active pressing when we don’t have the ball, suspect not enough of them putting enough effort into that! Early days in that respect, but keep returning to the fact that we don’t have the right options up front and that the churn of managers means we’re rebuilding once more. All so avoidable – that’s what is difficult, and any good players we have will go at the end of the season, and we start again.

      Best, Al

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      • Thanks Alan. And thanks for your wonderful writing about our club.

        Pat Jennings was my hero growing up a fanatical Spurs fan living next to the ground in the 1970s. I was heartbroken when, aged 11, I went to my first home game against Sheffield Utd in 1976 and Barry Daines was playing. So glad that we have welcomed Pat back to the Lane in recent years. We should have never ever let him go. He is Tottenham through and through – and a class act to boot. The club hierarchy can treat our past players very shabbily. They deserve better. COYS

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