5 tactical issues Mauricio Pochettino needs to address

“It is my job and my responsibility to find the solution,” remarked a disappointed Mauricio Pochettino after our dour performance against Stoke.

Since then, our new coach has had the international break with which to consider just how he takes the team forward. He has a number of tactical problems to consider and how he can resolve them, which fall in to five main areas.

1. Pressing

This was Mauricio Pochettino’s calling card at Southampton.

It wasn’t relentless pressure from the front such as Barcelona employ, but it was frequent and set off by certain triggers. For example, the ball going out short in to the full back area from the keeper or a player being caught with the ball facing his own goal so he could not turn.

He tried to deploy this briefly at the start of the season, with our trip to Sunderland being the prime example.

At the Stadium of Light, we showed two zones of ball recover. An initial press from our front four players with the rest dropping off to defend and win possession back deeper in our half.


Spurs tackles against Sunderland.

It was successful not only in terms of directly winning the ball back through tackling, but also forced Sunderland’s defenders and keeper to have to clear downfield. The pressure and closing down created ball recovery from clearances too.


Sunderland long balls against Spurs.

Since then we’ve seen us gradually drop off deeper and the level of pressure we’ve applied has declined.

If we look at where we recovered the ball against Aston Villa two games ago, we can see how we barely won it back in their half.


Spurs tackles against Aston VIlla.

In our last match with Stoke, we can see a similar trend with the ball only being won back in their half through tackling in wide areas.


Spurs tackles against Stoke.

This is the result of a tactical change to try and lure the opposition out, allowing us to counter attack.

Whether this was done because the Sunderland match was very frenetic and end-to-end? Or he feels that he just doesn’t have the personnel with the stamina to carry a presing game out? We do not know. The problem is that dropping off has not really worked, as the performances against both Stoke and Aston Villa testify.

Mauricio Pochettino needs to re-visit this issue and decide what he wants us to be. Is he going to coach an active team that closes down from the front or a reactive team that counter attacks?

2. Fluidity

Mauricio Pochettino’s other calling card from his successful Saints team was a fluid attack. Players switched positions and essentially filled roles to keep the balance of the team.

We saw this at the start of the season as Erik Lamela, Christian Eriksen and Nacer Chadli tore up QPR 4-0.

Lamela starting from the right and drifting to the left to set up Nacer Chadli, who had switched in the opposite direction, was the highlight of this fluid system.


Lamela switches sides to set up Chadli.

Since then, this switching of positions has all but disappeared. Inverted wide forwards just drift in to the middle and this is made even more rigid when we opt for a second striker as a number ten. With Paulinho, Kane or Soldado filing this position off another centre forward, we have no changing of roles and the formation from a fluidity standpoint is quite stagnant.

Mauricio Pochettino can get away without being fluid if he introduces some width in to the line-up. The obsession with inverted wide forwards who come inside means that without fluidity, everyone ploughs back in to the centre and we become predictable and easy to stop. If he wants to play this way, then players filling each other’s position and knowing what’s required of them when they are there needs to return.

3. Transition times

With Mauricio Pochettino’s patented pressing, this cut down on transition times from defence to attack.

The problem that we’ve had is that our play has become very slow with a lot of sideways passing since we have become less aggressive in our pressing. This has meant that opposition teams can get back in their defensive shape and get set before we can hurt them.

We have seen fleeting examples of quick transitions this season. Our 4-0 win against QPR was full of them. Nabil Bentaleb winning the ball back and then breaking quickly forward to pass it to Emmanuel Adebayor to set up Nacer Chadli’s opener was one.


Adebayor gets quickly out in transition.

Regaining possession and Rose’s swift break to tee up the Togolese striker for the fourth was another.


Rose races forward to pick out Adebayor.

We also notched our first goal against Sunderland after a quick transition. Mousa Dembele won the ball back and moved it quickly to Adebayor. His shot was saved, but Nacer Chadli pounced on the rebound.

The best example was of course at the Emirates. A series of players closing down started by Younes Kaboul saw Mathieu Flamini stripped of the ball and Nacer Chadli score.


Flamini is set upon and moments later we score.

The quick transitions have been few and far between and this is something that needs to be worked on with the players on the training field. They can be from counter attacks or pressing high up, but the speed has gone out of our game and it needs to return.

4. Formation

We’ve seen a number of different formations under Mauricio Pochettino so far. He started out with a 4-2-3-1, briefly used a 4-4-2 and has now moved to a 4-3-3 set up.

None of these formations are wrong, but they don’t always take advantage of the personnel we currently have at our disposal.

Mauricio Pochettino relies greatly on his full backs for width. Whereas he could regularly call on Luke Shaw and Nathaniel Clyne at Southampton, here he has struggled to find a suitably athletic right back without the injured Kyle Walker.

Kyle Naughton has looked cautious and adequate when he has filled in, Eric Dier looks like a centre back being asked to do a full back’s job.

What’s more, Federico Fazio has had a baptism of fire in the Premier League. The giant of a centre back has struggled to play the high-ish line we’ve deployed, as he is susceptible to pace.

The most disturbing issue is seeing him play on the left of the centre back pairing, which is where his troubles have come. He hasn’t formed any kind of understanding with Younes Kaboul and the pair are on completely different wavelengths.


Kaboul caught up and Fazio back.

Mauricio Pochettino needs to look at his formation and tailor it to the personnel he has available.

In the current situation without a suitable right back, maybe a back three with a right wing back such as Aaron Lennon could get the best out of what we have? That would also allow him to get better use out of Eric Dier and protect Fazio against pace. He also has options of whether to go 3-4-3 or 3-5-2.

5. Mauricio Pochettino Substitutions

The best-laid plans don’t always come off or the tempo and flow of game needs to be changed and so personnel are switched.

Every manager has substitutions, but Mauricio Pochettino doesn’t seem to make very good use of his.

Take our last performance against Stoke. A dire first half saw us 2-0 down and so changes being made sooner rather than later was commendable.

Erik Lamela for Andros Townsend was a like-for-like change, where he upgraded the player on the right, but didn’t really tactically alter anything. Both are inverted wide players that will cut inside on to their left foot.

At the same time, he took off Christian Eriksen and replaced him with Mousa Dembele. The Dane wasn’t having the best of games, but to introduce another slow player alongside Etienne Capoue did nothing for the balance or speed with which the team was playing.

The third change was a standard one we’ve seen from Mauricio Pochettino when chasing matches. Haul off the defensive midfielder and put on a striker. This is the standard TV commentator’s change to just lob on another centre forward without thinking of the congestion it causes against a team that is sat back.

Mauricio Pochettino needs to be more tactical with his changes. Introduce some width. Bring on a player to gain control in midfield that allows you to keep the pressure on. Introduce an extra creative passer in to the game against teams that are sat back. Sometimes it seems that chasing a game can cloud Pochettino’s judgement.

Mauricio Pochettino has plenty to solve over this international break and his search for answers may be a while in coming.

If you enjoyed this post, please share:


10 Responses to 5 tactical issues Mauricio Pochettino needs to address

  1. Andy B 19th November 2014 at 8:30 pm #

    Another excellent article and very interesting. I agree that Lennon could temporarily play at right back – he can defend and has the pace to attack and get back when he needs to. The other option while we are waiting for Walker’s return is to play Kaboul at right back and Vertonghen and Dier at centre back.

    I have always found it strange why we bought Soldado who thrives on crosses in the box and yet we never provide him with any. His strength is getting on to loose balls in the 18 yard box and putting the ball in the net. Since being at Spurs the team has never been set up to accommodate his style of play. Messi at Barcelona is a great example of where the whole team is set up to benefit a player’s strengths. That is why Messi has had more success at Barcelona than his national team.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 20th November 2014 at 10:05 am #

      Agree with your point about Soldado, he is/was an excellent first time striker of the ball. Its the first time in a while, maybe since Klinsmann, that we’ve really had a penalty box predator of a centre forward and yet we don’t play to his strengths.

  2. Garbonza 19th November 2014 at 9:52 pm #

    As a casual observer it seems to me Poch is not taking notes as he goes along. Surely he must have noted (at least mentally) tactics that have worked consistently — the switching of Lamela and Chadli, the partnership between Soldado and Kane? Maybe he has short-term memory problems — still not an excuse to take all season (or more) to keep a top team at least at the level they were before.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 20th November 2014 at 10:07 am #

      I think part of the problem is the continual chopping and changing of lineups, especially his centre back pairing. There isn’t much consistency, particularly at the base of the team.

  3. Reinert 19th November 2014 at 11:01 pm #

    Great article! I think that MP is more of a pedagog, than a manager, at this point. He seems to be urging forth the talent of people that should long since buckled in and show some grit. Seriously, at this point, he should, rather harshly, be switching players to see who fits best, and where – but instead he is nudging playersto do the right thing, and they are stumbling towards it. Only time will tell if this easing in-to-it will yield any result. It just might, but we won’t know for sure until after christmas.

    What is the best 11 we can field, you think, Mark? What are our greatest strenghts with such an 11?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 20th November 2014 at 10:27 am #

      That’s a tough question Reinert. As i say above we need to play to the strengths of the players we have available at this time. Walker is a big loss and given how long he’s been out and managing his rehab and training, i don’t expect him to be back for at least a few more weeks. With that in mind, and that Naughton is suspended, from our current avaialable players i would go with:

      Kaboul, Fazio, Vertonghen
      Lennon, Stambouli, Eriksen, Rose
      Chadli, Soldado, Lamela

      – defensive stability as teams have carved us up through the middle. Less exposure of Fazio to pace. Vertonghen and Kaboul both comfortable in being pulled out to defend in wider areas as both have full back experience.
      – Improved crossing support from right side with Lennon.
      – Chadli and Lamela on natural sides to team up with wing backs to provide double ups in wide areas, but can also move inside to allow wing back overlap and additional players in box on crosses. Also Option for them to switch sides.
      – Stambouli and Eriksen both quicker movers of the ball to cut down transition times. Speed of Lennon, Rose, Lamela and Chadli on the break. All can dribble and beat opponent.
      – Defensive phase pressing from three front players and wing backs, especially against weaker teams. Stambouli prob best ball recovery midfield player we have.

  4. brian 20th November 2014 at 3:37 am #

    Just love your detail,and much of it I agree with.But at present,I reall fiill for Solodado,who looks a very accomplished player,but the sytstem of him playing up front on his own,has proven to be not ythe best of solutions.In thgis instance i find myself at odds,with Ponchi.Then of course,there are are other blaring average players,in positions of responsibility(defensive wise).Who seem to be prone tpo errors,on a regualar basis..Of which the Coach cannot be held responsible for..He can only field what,he has available too him..But some decisions,such as the choice of Captain,seem to bewiddle us fans.Kabaul,has been a bloody didaster at it.He woulkd appear to have no leadership,qualities what so ever.Then again perhaps,we should just all be bit more patient.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 20th November 2014 at 10:32 am #

      Great points Brian. Kaboul was a curious choice for captain, all we have to go on was that supposedly he was the most popular choice amongst the dressing room. It’s not like he cannot be a leader, he was very good at the Emirates, but rarely at any other times have we seen leadership qualities.

      Soldado is being worn down by not being used and then being used incorrectly when he gets a rare start. He seems a shadow of the player he was at Valencia and we may have passed the point of no return for his confidence at Spurs.

  5. Tim 20th November 2014 at 11:40 pm #

    I first of all, I put my vote in for Mark as the next manager of Tottenham Hotspurs.

    I agree with a lot of what has been said about the lack of width and having a make shift right back. The team really looks like a side without any rhythm at all and I’m struggling to remember a time where we had any effective one touch attacking maneuvers but with the mix of players we have I don’t see it improving. I think the players we brought it with the Bale money are all decent players on their own but little thought was put into how to structure them all into a team.

    I like the option of 3 at the back and giving Lennon another shot as he could put in quality crosses for Soldado and Chadli but still renders us a little weak down the left as Danny Rose is still the only source of width leaving him sprawling to get back to cover although having Vertonghen more able to cover would assist with this.

    I’d like to see MP bolster the squad with a bit more width in the summer window but who would you look at getting in Mark?

    P.S Do you play Fifa?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st November 2014 at 11:25 am #

      Haha thank you for your support and vote of confidence Tim :)

      That’s a good question about how to bolster the squad. Width can mean many things to many people and where you wish to gain it from ie wide forwards, midfield wingers, full backs or wing backs. Therefore it’s difficult to say who to get in as it depends on the system employed.

      At the minute Pochettino wishes to gain this from full backs and i think we are in decent shape when our choices are healthy eg Walker or Yedlin (when he comes in), Rose or Davies. Unless we can pick up someone like Fabio Coentrao then i don’t see us upgrading much at the position. Seamus Coleman is a player i like, but will probably go to a Man Utd. Ricardo Rodriguez of Wolfsburg might be a nice pick-up at just 22 years of age.

      If he wishes to gain it from wide forwards then Konoplyanka i think would make an excellent choice. Shaqiri is very good but i can’t see us attracting him. Nolito might be a player we could get from Celta Vigo, but I’m not sure on his fit for our system. He does play as an inverted forward on the left but does create chances and goals, which is hard to ignore, but he can also play on the right.

      I don’t play FIFA, sorry!