In his relatively short but mostly successful time as a manager, there has been one criticism of Mauricio Pochettino that has followed him wherever he’s gone. And that is a lack of a “Plan B “in his game when things aren’t going well. Now in his third season at Tottenham Hotspur, there are signs that this is starting to change.
At the end of last season as Tottenham spluttered in their title Pursuit, if there was one criticism of Pochettino it was simply that he had one plan and stuck with it. Whether it be through injuries to important first team players or just in struggling to break down the opposition if his first plan of attack didn’t work, there was often little he seemed able to do to rectify a situation gone awry. Too often it appeared that in the dying minutes of a match when on the verge of a win, a like for like substitution seemed the only way he was able to counteract a problem opponent.
There is an argument that if the plan A works well enough there really isn’t a need for a plan B, and generally this has been true of Tottenham under Pochettino. He has turned an aging, overpaid squad with little to no chemistry or identity into one of the most vibrant, youthful and strongest teams in the league. However, with key players absent from the side then Tottenham have been found wanting; either through players lacking the quality to fill in for the missing ones or an inability to change their system to fit the players that remain.
This season there has been a change, Pochettino has been able to bring in the players he wanted (for the most part) and this has seen adjustments to the system he plays with. A long Euros campaign and some early injuries to Harry Kane, Moussa Dembélé, Eric Dier and Danny Rose created some problems for the Tottenham manager. Last year, so many first team players being out at once would have been nothing short of disastrous for Tottenham. However with the new players at his disposal, Pochettino has been able to adapt his style.
The current Spurs system works through extremely high pressing that stops the opposing side from either gaining any momentum. At its’ best, it negates the other team’s system entirely (as shown so efficiently against Manchester City). But this does have its’ disadvantages. Such as against a team that sits back and sits deep, where it can lead the front line into a brick wall of defence that is forced into being compact. Thus actually making it harder to break them down, and ultimately score.
Changing from his usual, trusted 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-1-4-1 or even a 4-4-2 on occasion has given Tottenham several things. Perhaps most crucially it is the ability to cope without Moussa Dembélé, something they have completely failed to do in previous years. This enables them to press higher up with only one holding player. Additionally, they can now throw on Vincent Janssen or push Son Heung-Min further forward to help out Kane at the top of a 4-4-2. This version of Tottenham is more versatile, and far more unpredictable to their opponents as a result.
It’s still early days for Pochettino in branching out into new tactical ideas. Yet with the addition of key players across the pitch, players he trusts, he has thus far proven adept at integrating them into his systems. That’s on top of deploying squad’s core from last season into adjusted roles. The signs for both team and manager, whom show an awful lot of promise, are certainly good ones.