How Mauricio Pochettino will change Spurs: Defence

With Mauricio Pochettino in the hot seat, our playing style is going to change this season.

I’ve looked at his overall system and what will be expected from our goalkeeper, now I’m going to be looking at the defence.

Pressing with the sideline

Mauricio Pochettino, like Andre Villas-Boas, is a fan of the high line, as he attempts to squeeze the playing area. This sees the full backs push up, attempting to aid with the pressing in wide areas, which is the main area of ball recovery.


Southampton tackles against Spurs at the Lane.

The Argentinean likes his players to overload defensively in these wide areas and ‘gang tackle’ using the sideline to hem the opposition in. We can see this from our game with Southampton above and also this illustration from their match with Swansea.


Southampton press Swansea against the sideline.

The space is left out on the other side of the pitch and we attempted to do something similar in our opening pre-season fixture with Seattle.


Spurs trap 4v2 against the circled man on the sideline.

His full backs need to be athletic and able to get forward and retreat at speed. His centre backs have to be mobile and especially comfortable moving out to cover in the wide areas when the full backs have gone up-field.

Role changes for the Centre backs

Our centre backs this season are going to be playing a high line, which will be nothing new to them having been fairly effective at it under Andre Villas-Boas. In the first ten Premier League games of last season we kept seven clean sheets, so the understanding of how to operate it should already be there.

Our centre backs will need to make some changes though.

The first is that they now not only have to be vertically mobile to go back and forth, but also laterally portable to move from side to side. We looked yesterday at the goalkeeping position and how the centre backs split extremely wide to stretch the opposition out and start the attack moving. This is a change they will have to make this season.


Lovren and Fonte split wide as Wanyama drops in to receive the ball.

At Southampton, Mauricio Pochettino used Dejan Lovren and Jose Fonte to do this. If we look closer at one of their Premier League matches, we can see more of how their roles operate.

In their match at the start of last season with West Brom we can see how Lovren receives the ball wide from Boruc in goal and also across the back from Jose Fonte. As he moves up the pitch, he receives lots of passes back down the left flank where he is supporting his left back.


Dejan Lovren passes received against WBA.

This arcing movement of the centre back out and up the line is also repeated on the other side by Jose Fonte. He moves out and up the flank to support his right back. Also note the long switches in play, as the ball is pinged across from Dejan Lovren in order to alter the point of the attack.


Jose Fonte passes received against WBA.

When defending, with the full backs pushed on, the centre backs have to be comfortable moving out to tackle in wide areas. We can see this from our game with Pochettino’s Saints at the Lane, where Dejan Lovren is pulled out to cover Nacer Chadli who has got beyond Luke Shaw.


Chadli gets behind Shaw and Lovren is pulled out.

The second change our centre backs will have to make is when in possession of the ball. This season they are going to be sending it long a lot more often. This doesn’t mean that they will be playing aimless hoofs of the ball upfront for a striker. What these will be are more calculated passes to swiftly switch play, of which a lot of these will be more low-driven passes across the ground.

We can see this calculated long-passing game in Lovren and Fonte’s passes. Not only do they play long balls to each other across the back to switch the side of attack, but also across the formation to the full back on the opposite side.

Dejan Lovren does this, often from his position having split out very wide on the left.

Dejan Lovren passes played against WBA.

Dejan Lovren passes played against WBA.

Jose Fonte does the same, but with slightly less accuracy, from the right, but with many more switches to get it to left back Luke Shaw.


Jose Fonte passes played against WBA.

Therefore, Mauricio Pochettino needs centre backs that have:

– Pace and are comfortable playing a high line.
– Adept at moving horizontally to get out and defend in the wide areas
– Secure at defending in 1v1 situations, especially out towards the sidelines.
– Comfortable splitting wide as losing the ball means they are out of position.
– The ability to pass the ball accurately over distance.

Changes for the full backs

The full backs in Mauricio Pochettino’s system have differing functions.

In my formation overview article, we saw that he used the left back to play much more advanced than the right back. This was because Mauricio Pochettino used a wide forward on the left and as he cut in-field, the full back overlaps in order to supply crosses.

On the right he uses a wide midfielder who can stay out on the flank and cross or can drift inside to overload the centre. When this player moves in-field, the right back’s duty is to get forward and supply crosses, otherwise he can hold his position and support the wide midfielder from behind.

We can see this from an average position diagram where Luke Shaw on the left is more pushed on than Callum Chambers on the right. Also note the split between Lovren and Fonte at the back. James Ward-Prowse can drift in from the right to create more men in the centre, whilst Jay Rodriguez works as an inside forward from the left.


Southampton average positions against WBA.

As we looked at in the Mauricio Pochettino system overview article, one of Southampton’s main ways to score is through crossing. The Saints recorded the fifth highest number of balls in to the box in the Premier League last season. Luke Shaw ranked third overall in crosses attempted from open play and was the highest delivering defender. This is a big reason why Pochettino’s choice of left back this term will be key!

If we again look at Southampton’s match with West Brom from the Premier League last year, we can see just how much Mauricio Pochettino used Shaw to get forward and cross.

The left back often receives the ball in the West Brom half, but also over great distances, as we can see from the length of passing the lines to him.


Luke Shaw passes received against WBA.

Shaw really does hug the touchline, as he is the only supplier of width on this side with Jay Rodriguez cutting in-field. From his full back position, he can get down the line and look to get the ball in the box as the space in front of him is vacated.


Luke Shaw passes played against WBA.

Over on the right, Callum Chambers is slightly more restrained. Mauricio Pochettino’s system sees him employ more of a winger who can also move into central midfield on this flank. Therefore Chambers only has to get forward if the man in front of him cuts inside.

He too does receive the ball over distance, as we saw from Dejan Lovren’s switches in play to him. Further forward, the passes to him flatten out as he links with his wide midfielder, which is Ward-Prowse on this occasion.


Callum Chambers passes received against WBA.

Again, the passes that he plays are very flat up and down the line. He looks to send the ball backwards to his wide splitting centre back or straight up to the wide midfielder. This doesn’t stop Chambers putting longer crosses in to the box when the right-sided midfielder has moved in to the middle and he provides the width.


Callum Chambers passes played against WBA.

Overall, Mauricio Pochettino needs full backs that have:

– Great speed to cover the ground going forward and back.
– Able to help with pressing from the front whilst good defenders when retreating.
– Can take players on in 1v1 situations, especially from the full back on the side with the wide forward.
– Able to deliver good accurate crosses.

Concerns for Mauricio Pochettino

The one concern for Pochettino’s defence is its ability to cope with teams that play with two centre forwards.

As we can see here, Liverpool have Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge up against Jose Fonte and Dejan Lovren as the ball (circled) is sent directly forwards.


Saints FBs get caught upfield and their CBs 1v1.

THe centre backs are caught playing a high line, whilst Luke Shaw and Callum Chambers are up-field and out of the play. Jack Cork is unable to fulfil his role of dropping between his wide-splitting centre backs to make the defensive safety valve. This leaves Liverpool able to counter with 2v2 against the centre backs with space to run in to. They exploited this all game to run out easy 3-0 winners.

Southampton struggled against teams with two strikers last season. Man City, Liverpool and also we adopted the twin striker approach both times we beat them.

This will be a concern for Mauricio Pochettino, but he does have an upgrade as his defensive midfielder. Sandro and Etienne Capoue are better options to drop between the two splitting centre backs in the defensive phase.

This will be highly beneficial and a key part of Mauricio Pochettino’s midfield, something I will look at when covering this area of the team tomorrow. Be sure to check back then or look for the article link on Twitter or Facebook.

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6 Responses to How Mauricio Pochettino will change Spurs: Defence

  1. DaveSpurs 23rd July 2014 at 6:52 pm #

    Another great read Mark, thoroughly enjoying this series.

    • Stavos 24th July 2014 at 3:01 pm #

      Agree, great work.

      • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 24th July 2014 at 7:56 pm #

        Cheers Stavos

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 24th July 2014 at 3:17 pm #

      Thanks for reading DaveSpurs.

  2. Zack 24th July 2014 at 5:20 am #

    Nice to be able to refer to these observations while watching the game Mark. Looks like we have good depth in the fullback positions with Davies coming in, Naughton and Walker look like a capable pair too.

    I’ve seen a lot of fans talk up Vlaar as a good CB replacement for Daws, I’m wondering what you think of him? I’m afraid that he might be too slow for our system. I feel like another Kaboul-type player who’s fast and capable in the air would compliment Chiriches and Verts on the left side well.

    COYS, looking forward to your next article, good win today with Lamela’s 2 goals!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 24th July 2014 at 3:16 pm #

      Glad you’re finding it useful Zack. Its interesting to see how much Pochettino is carrying over from his time in charge of Southampton.

      I like Ron Vlaar, but am not sure at nearly 30 if he is the right signing for us. His positional sense is very good, he tackles well and you really notice when he is not in the Villa back line. He is not super quick over the ground though and i wonder how he’d cope with a high line – Villa defend very deep and counter attack so i’ve not seen if he can cope with the extra demands. He often looks better in a back three also. I would take him if we were short and the transfer deadline was fast approaching, but otherwise i’m not sure he is the right signing for us in this system.