The Premier League has experienced something of a tactical enlightenment over the last 18 months or so. The arrivals of some of the sport’s very best managers have helped that, along with an apparent increase in tactical flexibility throughout the league. It has been a long time coming, unfortunately, but the Premier League has finally turned a corner. Although the appointments of Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte have elevated the discussions, the revolution began long before them.
One of the best tacticians in the game, Mauricio Pochettino, has been at the forefront of so much that has been good about the Premier League in recent years. The way he developed Southampton was a joy to watch, and his trust in young players – at both Southampton and Spurs – has seen some of the league’s most exciting talents begin to fulfil their potentials.
Pochettino’s style has become a trademark. Most impressively, though, he has shown an ability to adapt, as shown with his Spurs team particularly. After being loyal to his 4-2-3-1, the former Espanyol boss has tried different formations with excellent results. If it wasn’t for the ludicrous shock of Leicester’s title win, Spurs’ overachievement in 2015/16 would have been a significant story in itself. For all the respect he has earned, Pochettino never seemed to get enough credit for what he did with Spurs last season.
Now his side are excelling once again. Excelling with a back three that allows both Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen the freedom to roam and support Harry Kane. He has turned Danny Rose and Kyle Walker into two of the world’s best full-backs and made Spurs a unit far greater than the sum of their parts. The sum of their parts, though, continues to increase as his young, highly-talented squad matures.
This weekend Pochettino faces another of the great tacticians, Pep Guardiola. The Spurs boss found a way to restrict Manchester City’s wonderful form earlier this season and shut down their free-flowing attack with a tactical masterclass. Pochettino’s side are organised, defensively resolute (they boast the best defensive record in the league), and have the attacking punch to knockout even the most stubborn opponents.
Guardiola’s City are suffering. After their great start, which was halted by Pochettino’s Spurs, suspensions, poor finishing and a catastrophic defence has seen them slip out of the top four. For all of his team’s difficulties, however, Guardiola’s ground-breaking tactical approach and devout belief in his philosophy have already aided the tactical revolution in the Premier League. His line-ups alone force people into a tactical discussion and, even if there has been a lot of criticism thus far, that is a positive step for the league as a whole.
Along with Klopp, Conte and several other managers, Pochettino and Guardiola are leading a change in the Premier League. While Guardiola’s struggles early on in his Manchester City tenure have brought pressure on him, the arrival of a man who was so significant in redefining the way that football is thought of cannot be underestimated. Yet to make an impact in the league standings, he is beginning to change the way that the game is thought about.
Pochettino, meanwhile, is making a case for himself as one of the world’s best managers. Motivating players and developing teams that are tactically flexible yet well balanced, the wonders he has worked at Spurs deserve acclaim.
We may not have seen the best of Spurs or Manchester City just yet, but their managers are symbolic of a meaningful improvement in the league as a whole.