Mauricio Pochettino is the latest manager to be handed the reins by Daniel Levy. But what will the Argentine bring to Spurs and how will he change our system?
In a series of articles, I’ll be looking at what impact Mauricio Pochettino’s philosophy will have on the team. From goalkeeper through defence, in to midfield and finally attack, what will the new manager change and what will he need from the player at that position?
To start off, I’ll be taking a look at his overall system, the key elements within it and the factors required for success. So, without further ado, lets get started.
Mauricio Pochettino can set his team up in a number of formations, but his most utilised, and the one that best highlights his player’s roles, is the 4-2-3-1. The general movements of his players from this base formation at Southampton were like this.
He starts with a back four, but the full backs provide the width in any of his setups due to the midfield players in front moving in to overload the centre. As the full backs eject and get up-field, the centre backs are left with a great amount of ground to cover and will often be pulled out to the flanks.
In our recent 3-2 win against Southampton at the Lane, we can see how Dejan Lovren has to go out and cover Nacer Chadli, as Luke Shaw is caught forward.
Both centre backs have to be comfortable being dragged out in to these wide areas in order to cover their full backs. They need to be mobile, good at regaining the ball in 1v1 situations, but also comfortable on it once in possession.
When they have the ball, the centre backs will split wide to drag the opposition around and negate their press. They are aided in their work by one of the midfielders in the pivot (usually Wanyama), who will drop in to any space that opens up. This can often turn the formation in to what sometimes looks like a back three to get play moving.
Alongside Wanyama at the base of midfield, Pochettino employs a box-to-box player (Schneiderlin). This man’s job is to help regain possession in the defensive phase, but also get forward and arrive late in the box in the attack, just as Schneiderlin does to score here.
Ahead of them, Mauricio Pochettino employs a wide forward in Jay Rodriguez. He is tasked with looking to run on to through balls, whilst also making an extra target in the penalty area with Southampton looking to cross.
Rodriguez’s movement opens up the flank for Luke Shaw to get forward from left back on the overlap. An extreme example that highlighted his movement perfectly was seen when Southampton played Manchester City. Here, Rodriguez had two zones of activity, out wide on the flank and in the box.
On the other side, Mauricio Pochettino employs either a player who is adept at crossing, such as James Ward Prowse, or a player who can pick a pass in Steven Davis. The choice of this player is key to the set up in terms of ball retention and chance creation, as I’ll come on to talk about in a minute.
In the middle of this trio he employs a number ten in Adam Lallana. He has a number of jobs on the team and does way more than the usual lock-picker at this position.
Firstly he has to be a passer who can pick out the run of a team mate. Secondly, he has to be able to drift in to wide areas to create overloads so that he can cross for Lambert and Rodriguez. Finally he also has to be able to burst past his centre forward on to through balls provided by the number nine. We can see that here as he goes past Lambert who feeds him in.
Up top, Mauricio Pochettino uses a centre forward who is not only a target man, but comes short looking for the ball so that others can run in-behind him. The player at this position then has to be able to pick a pass to find these runners, just as Lambert did above and also here against Fulham.
When the ball goes wide, the central striker has to get in the box to get on the end of crosses.
Passing the ball vertically
Mauricio Pochettino’s game plan evolves a lot around intensity. Whether this is by regaining the ball through pressing or from moving it forward in to attacking positions, speed and effort are always present.
One way he plays with intensity is to always be looking to move the ball forwards. This can be either long or short, but his teams invariably move it forward rather than back.
Take Southampton’s final game of last season, where they hosted Manchester United. Pochettino’s men had a whopping 58% possession and attempted to move the ball forwards on 279 occasions.
Compare that to the backwards passes, which were just half of their forwards ones with 140 attempted. However, also note how few were sent backwards in the final third.
With Southampton playing the second most number of long balls per game last year, it could be easy to think that moving it vertically means going aerial. Ricky Lambert is adept at winning high balls; however, often it was pinged over distance to feet.
The philosophy of Mauricio Pochettino is to create chances from runners being hit with through balls or by overloading the penalty area and crossing.
Finding Lambert and Lallana with early vertical balls allows these two to feed others with their passing in the former approach. This was highlighted on two of their three goals against Fulham.
The other one that day came from a cross from the right flank, which is the second approach.
When working crossing situations, Lambert and Rodriguez are joined in the penalty area by the late arriving box-to-box midfielder, Morgan Schneiderlin. The ball is often provided by the full backs or the right-sided midfield player.
Southampton obliterated Newcastle 4-0 last season with another mix of longer through passes and crosses from the right side.
But they are not just limited to the right. With Jay Rodriguez moving in-field, Luke Shaw can supply crosses from the left, as Arsenal found out when they were lucky to escape St. Mary’s with a draw.
Under Mauricio Pochettino last season, Southampton attempted the fifth highest number of crosses amongst Premier League teams. They were also ranked fifth for through balls, so expect more of the same this season.
For those looking for some early signs of this at Spurs, vertical passing was evident on our opener against Seattle.
First of all, a long vertical ball was played over the top for Aaron Lennon to run on to. His layoff then found Harry Kane, who had dropped off like Rickie Lambert so often does. Kane then dinked a beautifully lobbed pass on to the head of Lewis Holtby who had run past him from deep.
It looked like a very Southampton type goal and the way Holtby called for the ball as he started his run indicated that this was something that had been worked on in training.
Mauricio Pochettino’s pressing has been well documented during his time in the Premier League. His team applies intense pressure to win the ball back in order to cut down transition times, whilst regaining possession closer to the opponent’s goal. With his side being fluid in attack, the opposition can often be unbalanced from a quick turnover.
Mauricio Pochettino has his side press from the front, but they also make good use of the sideline. Hemming the opposition in with gang tacklers is often a method used to get the ball back.
Take our game with Southampton at the Lane last season, where the Saints were very successful at regaining possession down their right.
We can see this in action against a different side in Swansea. We can see how Southampton overloaded the right here with six players against four.
The danger is Swansea finding the cross-field ball where there is an ocean of space on the right. The Swans centre back is calling for the ball and Angel Rangel is also in acres.
However, this type of pressure more often than not does force turnovers. Opposition players get caught with their head down and also the speed of the traps can often make it difficult for them to get the ball out of their feet.
Quickly regaining the ball was a big reason why Southampton led the Premier League with 58.6% possession last season.
For those looking to see if this will be translated to us, we saw several of these traps in evidence against Seattle. In the one below we tried to work a 4v2 situation against the man with the ball (circled) on the sideline. Once again, the space, if the man with the ball can find it, is on the other side of the field.
Overall objectives of Mauricio Pochettino
Overall, the objectives of Pochettino’s formation and philosophy are:
1. To pass the ball vertically.
– Whether this is in to the centre forward for runners to go past him or to get it out wide to get in order to cross the ball.
2. Be fluid in all forms off attack.
– You will quite often see Lallana, Lambert and Rodriguez changing positions, as they seek to keep the defence guessing where they’ll be. This can often put a defence off balance.
3. To crowd and always have a man over in central midfield.
– This is where the player on the right, often Steven Davis, was beneficial. He would drift inside to create four players in the middle. Moving in with Wanyama, Schneiderlin and Lallana outnumbers teams who play three men in the centre.
4. Regain the ball through intense pressing.
– This helps dominate possession and generates scoring chances through winning the ball closer to the opponent’s goal.
5. Quick transition times between defence and attack
– This is done through pressing, players inter-changing positions and vertical passing.
So there you have it, an overview of the system and philosophy of Mauricio Pochettino, some or all of which we can expect to see at Spurs this season.
Over the next few days, I’m going to be looking further at each player’s role and duties within the system, starting with the goalkeeping position. Be sure to check back tomorrow or look for the link on Twitter or Facebook.