When looking back on the season just gone, it feels surprising to see Tottenham with 69 points. This was the same total that was good enough to earn them 4th place in the 2011/12 Premier League season, and what many at White Hart Lane felt should have been Champions League football. 69 is only three less points than Everton managed, who most commentators spent the season eulogising over, and 13 more than Southampton, who it’s hard not to feel like actually won more games.
Given that Spurs achieved such a respectable points tally, the brief for Mauricio Pochettino would appear to ‘more of the same’. And yet the narratives associated with the Tottenham of 2013/14 were so negative that it can’t be. The first half of season was characterized by sterile possession and the unlovable ‘1-0’ win. The second: off-field farce and a trumpeting of old-school values. Both had their positvies, but Spurs were seen as struggling from 10 games into the season and this theme never changed. So even if Pochettino can’t improve on the points tally, he must improve how they get there.
It’s tempting to put Andre Villas-Boas and Mauricio Pochettino in same boat due to their shared penchant for dominating possession, but the two managers share different ideas about what to actually do with the ball. Whereas a lot of Tottenham’s passing under Villas-Boas tended to be from one side of the pitch to the other, and hence earned the tag of ‘sterile’, Pochettino likes his teams to pass the ball forward. It’s not possession for possession’s sake but a much more active approach.
Pochettino demands fluid movement from his players. In his system, the three forwards and sole playmaker are asked to constantly rotate positions in an attempt to engineer gaps in the opposition defence and to make them harder to pick-up.
This policy is likely to be easy to implement at Spurs given the number of flexible players already in the squad – Eriksen, Sigurdsson and Holtby come first to mind – and it’s easy to imagine Eriksen flourishing under Pochettino as his playmaker.
The manager isn’t afraid to commit men forward either, with a lot of his game being about overloading the opposition defence by virtue of having an extra man in attack. This tends to force the opposition to defend deeper and allows Pochettino’s teams to dominate possession, something that Southampton did in the majority of their games last season.
One thing that we’d expect to continue from Tim Sherwood’s stint as manager is the promotion of young players. Pochettino championed youth in both his time at Espanyol and Southampton; where at the latter, Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prowse and Calum Chambers particularly excelled. Although Nabil Bentaleb and Harry Kane may have been disappointed to see Shewood leave, they’re likely to be given their chance under the new manager.
The biggest thing going in Pochettino’s favour where Tottenham are concerned is his track record for getting the most out of players. Of the secret seven on which Spurs spent £107m, only Christian Eriksen has impressed. Daniel Levy will not be willing to accept a loss on the other six – Franco Baldini will certainly be hoping he doesn’t have to – and part of Pochettino’s remit will be to get more out of Roberto Soldado and Co. than either of his two predecessors managed.
It’s easy to imagine Pochettino fitting in well at White Hart Lane given the composition of the current squad and the tradition for playing attacking football. However, the expectations at Tottenham are quite different to anything the 42-year-old is yet to deal with, and even a decent points tally of 69 may not be enough to keep him at Spurs for the long-term.