Mauricio Pochettino’s record against the rest of the Big Six’s managerial cohort certainly isn’t the strongest. From the 43 times he’s faced Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Unai Emery and Jurgen Klopp – albeit some encounters harking back to his days in La Liga – the Tottenham boss has masterminded just nine victories, while he’s yet to line up against new Chelsea gaffer Maurizio Sarri.
But we have seen some steady improvement in that record recently after Spurs beat United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal last term, and a big part of that has been Pochettino’s ability to add to his tactical armoury, having used 4-2-3-1 almost exclusively during his first few years in English football with Southampton and the Lilywhites.
And the Argentine pulled off a masterstroke at Old Trafford a few weeks ago, when he unexpectedly used a diamond midfield to inspire a 3-0 win over the Red Devils.
So with another heavyweight clash in store this weekend when Spurs host Klopp’s Liverpool at Wembley, which ingenious setup should Pochettino attempt this time around to improve his record against the Premier League’s managerial elite? Football FanCast lay out three suggested solutions…
It’s a setup Tottenham’s players are already familiar with and Wolves recently showed how effective it can be against a 4-3-3 side of Liverpool’s mould, holding Manchester City to a draw at Molineux.
The most decisive factor was how it congested the middle of the pitch with three powerful centre-halves but also ensured pressure was applied to the bombing full-backs by the wide forwards, both in terms of closing down and taking up counter-attacking positions to pin back Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy.
The way Liverpool set up plays directly into that game-plan. Only three Liverpool players have completed more passes per match than Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andrew Robertson this season, the latter also notching up two assists from a whopping ten key passes, so it’s clear Tottenham need to nullify their influence as much as possible.
Likewise, with the full-backs providing the width, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane look to drift inside, making the rest of Liverpool’s attack incredibly narrow. That’s where the three centre-halves and the two midfielders in front of them earn their keep – simply bogging down the areas the Reds always try to play through.
The diamond midfield worked a treat at Old Trafford and it could well have a similar effect against Liverpool. Once again, it keeps Tottenham bodies in the central areas Liverpool tend to weave their attacking play through and will actually give them a numerical advantage in midfield, while putting pressure on Liverpool’s defence with the presence of two strikers – which would ensure there’s room to get both Harry Kane and the in-form Lucas Moura in the starting XI.
Playing with just one up front, even when it’s arguably the best striker in the world, can leave the centre-forward with simply too much to do and Liverpool have shown throughout their first four games of the season that they’ll be a lot more solid at the back this time around – Virgil van Dijk and Joe Gomez have proved formidable in winning the ball back and building attacks out of defence. Two strikers would at least reduce their ability to retain possession, and ensure Tottenham always have an outlet on the counter.
Of course, the other advantage of a diamond midfield is that it allows Eric Dier to drop into the defence if the game-plan needs changing, which brings us nicely onto…
Pochettino used 5-3-2 to great effect at the Bernabeu last season, snatching a draw against eventual European champions Real Madrid, and set Tottenham out in essentially the same setup in this fixture during the 2017/18 campaign.
It inspired a 4-1 win over Liverpool at Wembley and barring one moment of brilliance kept Salah quiet – the ingenious touch there being starting Serge Aurier at left wing-back to limit the Egyptian’s ability to cut inside on his stronger foot.
The defensive theory is an even more extreme version of 3-4-3. Although there’s much less pressure on the full-backs, there’s also an extra body in the engine room – meaning Saturday’s visitors will have to break down a bank of three central midfielders and three centre-halves to succeed playing through the heartof the pitch, while the wing-backs provide extra cover for the channels Salah and Mane like to sneak into.
Perhaps the only problem with this formation, however, is that Pochettino will need to rely on attacking players like Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli putting in a defensive shift in deeper positions to ensure all of Tottenham’s top talents are on the pitch at the same time.
So, Tottenham fans, which formation do you think Pochettino should employ against Liverpool? Let us know by voting below…