Substitutions and having a Plan B are two issues that Mauricio Pochettino needs to improve upon if he is going to make progress as Tottenham coach.
Plan B. Even the best preparations for a match can see the team failing to make an impact or struggling to break the opposition down. This is when a coach has to take stock and use the options available to him on his bench in order to influence a game.
Mauricio Pochettino has Plan A pretty much down, but having something else up his sleeve is a criticism that has followed him throughout this season.
It’s not that Pochettino doesn’t have a Plan B. We’ve seen him use several variations on his base formation, mainly around the number ten position. Here he has played a second striker – such as Kane off Soldado – or used a destructive player in Mousa Dembele.
We’ve also seen him set the team up in a much more counter attacking style. It worked at the Emirates where we drew 1-1 with Arsenal, nearly making off with all three points. At Old Trafford, this approach went spectacularly wrong, as Man Utd swept in to a three-goal lead.
The problem for Pochettino isn’t usually his initial setup, but more that his in-game use of his substitutes bench has been more miss than hit.
Take our last Premier League match with Leicester City. After being pegged back to 2-2, the Foxes were threatening to take control of the game as their midfield was beginning to overpower ours.
In response to this, Mauricio Pochettino wasn’t afraid to send on the much-maligned Paulinho and switch to a 4-3-3 formation. Although the Brazilian has rarely featured, this was an excellent move that swung the momentum of the game by matching Leicester’s trio in the middle of the park.
Paulinho added some much needed strength to aid Nabil Bentaleb and Ryan Mason with ball recovery. On top of this, he is a player that looks to break forward from deeper positions. Racing through to set up Christian Eriksen on the game-sealing goal was testament to highlight what a good change this was.
However, for every good move, there have been several bad ones. The match prior against Manchester United was littered with them. Mauricio Pochettino got his initial setup wrong against the Red Devils. Then he failed to make the necessary changes both tactically and from his substitutes bench until it was too late.
In going down 2-0, our head coach made a move after just 31 minutes, bringing on Mousa Dembele for Andros Townsend. Pochettino did have to be commended for making a change relatively early. Man Utd were hammering us down our right, as they went after the inexperience and errant defensive positioning down this side.
By introducing Dembele, Mauricio Pochettino had brought some size and a pressing presence in to the number ten position to help shield Mason and Bentaleb. This did something, but didn’t address the main issue to stem the flow of Man Utd attacks down our right. The reason being that the change sent Nacer Chadli over to this flank, who, like Townsend, isn’t reliable enough at tracking and helping his full back. The move ended up solving next to nothing.
It wasn’t until Mauricio Pochettino switched Nabil Bentaleb on to marking Fellaini in the second half that we started to slow Man Utd down. This was a tactical move, but the substitution that should’ve occurred in the first half, bringing on a better defensive wide forward in Erik Lamela to plug the right side, happened far too late. 64 minutes were on the clock when this switch came, only after which we began to gain a slight attacking foothold in the match.
Man Utd were managing the game by this point, but seeing us begin to push them back, Pochettino then sent on Emmanuel Adebayor for Nacer Chadli. The problem with this switch was that we needed a player who could run in-behind the Man Utd defence. Erik Lamela sending Harry Kane through and David de Gea foiling the England striker as he tried to send the ball through his legs highlighted this.
Adebayor, however, is a player that comes towards the ball. Removing Chadli, a player that likes to run in-behind for one who comes short, again did nothing to affect the game.
Mauricio Pochettino had made three changes and only one of them, Erik Lamela, had a positive impact on altering the flow of the game. It is this 1 in 3 ratio that seems to be Pochettino’s hit rate when it comes to making good substitutions.
Tactical issues Mauricio Pochettino must address
Mauricio Pochettino needs to improve on his in-game substitutions. They aren’t going to work or come off every time, but he needs to be more consistent in making the right calls about where change is needed.
It sometimes seems that in chasing a game his judgement can become clouded. More so than when we are ahead and he is looking to constrict the opposition by continuing with his original game plan. Haphazard changes can cause fans to level at him that he doesn’t have a Plan B, when actually he’s just been slow to recognise where the moves need to be made.
This is all a learning curve for what is still a relatively young coach. Mauricio Pochettino is just 43 years old and continues to gain knowledge of how his changes can affect a game during the match. Setting his team up is the easier part of any game plan, changing it mid-match when things aren’t going as expected is where the best earn their money and add to their reputations.