How Mauricio Pochettino will change Spurs

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.

Formational setup

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.


Mauricio Pochettino’s 4-2-3-1 with Southampton.

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.


Chadli gets behind Shaw and Lovren is pulled out.

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.


Lovren and Fonte split wide as Wanyama drops in.

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.


Schneiderlin arrives to head home against Hull.

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.


Jay Rodriguez passes received: Southampton 1 Man City 1.

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.


Lallana bursts pass Lambert to receive the through ball.

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.


Ricky Lambert passes played, Fulham 0 Southampton 3.

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.


Southampton forward passes against Man Utd.

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.


Southampton backwards passes against Man Utd.

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.

Chance creation

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.


Southampton chances 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.


Southampton chances against Newcastle Utd.

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.


Southampton chances created against Arsenal.

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.


Kane plays a vertical pass to Holtby.


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.


Southampton tackles against Spurs.

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.


Southampton press Swansea against the sideline.

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.


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

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.

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33 Responses to How Mauricio Pochettino will change Spurs

  1. YouShube 21st July 2014 at 2:44 pm #

    For my mind then players like Dawson and Rose will not make the cut. I see Eriksen as the lallana and would suggest Holtby at the box to box if he was the size of Dembele or Paulinho, both of whom could/should fill the role but are too risk averse to do so.

    Neither has the forward passing game required of a true box to box and rarely test the keeper from distance

    For home games where the emphasis is on us I would see us as 4123


    Walker Vlad Verts Davies


    Holtby Eriksen

    Lamela Ade Chadli

    Both Chadli and Lamela have to add more intensity to their game and make more runs to the far post to take advantage of inswinging crosses.

  2. bobo 21st July 2014 at 5:55 pm #

    Nice one, very good article.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st July 2014 at 7:02 pm #

      Thanks for reading Bobo

  3. whitehotspurs 21st July 2014 at 6:25 pm #

    Many thanks for such an interesting and clear explanation of MP’s tactics. I’m looking forward to reading your player-by-player analysis.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st July 2014 at 7:04 pm #

      Thanks whitehotspurs, things will be interesting with Mauricio Pochettino in charge this season!

      • Chris 21st July 2014 at 11:29 pm #

        Are you suggesting tactics were a tad lacking under Tim last season…? ;)

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 22nd July 2014 at 10:33 am #

          haha, not at all, this is an article solely about Mauricio Pochettino ;)

  4. Bonvo 21st July 2014 at 7:29 pm #

    Just as I was getting bored of reading amateur bloggers copying each other and lazily repeating what the gutter press make up I stumble on this excellent article.

    A really interesting, well presented, easy to read and enjoyable piece of work.

    Thank you and well done.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st July 2014 at 11:23 pm #

      Thanks Bongo, appreciate the kind words and the positive feedback :)

  5. Bongo 21st July 2014 at 7:32 pm #

    I just wish I could spell my name right…..

  6. Zack 21st July 2014 at 7:44 pm #

    Welcome back, here’s to a great season! COYS!!!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st July 2014 at 11:26 pm #

      Thanks Zack, good to be back and good to see you here again this season. Looking forward to it being a good one with Pochettino in charge! COYS!

  7. LG 22nd July 2014 at 8:42 am #

    I’ve been following your blog for quite a while now. Your take is always very intriguing and I thoroughly enjoy reading your analysis. Are you like doing coaching badges or something?


    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 22nd July 2014 at 10:11 am #

      Thanks for reading LG. Just a keen eye for detail and observation at the minute, I do plan to do them in the future though.

  8. Tully Gilbert 22nd July 2014 at 9:54 am #

    Hi there, i like your article but require an explanation on why you didn’t include how pochettino has his team play about from the back in most if not all situations. This is contradictory to your sentence about vertical passing but may fit in if the vertical balls are always played once ball is getting close to halfway.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 22nd July 2014 at 10:25 am #

      Great question Tully. Maybe i didn’t explain myself well enough in the forwards and backwards passing diagrams when highlighting how little it went backwards in the attacking third and how most of these backwards passes were in Southampton’s own half.

      Every pass cannot be always be forwards vertically due to opposition pressing or men being tightly marked. His teams do play with it from the back and the ball can go from side-to-side from centre back to centre back or through the defensive midfielder dropping in to the back line or through the goalkeeper (check the passes back to him in the diagram).

      The ball goes vertical when it can, this is often from the middle third. Bare in mind vertical doesn’t always mean 30-40 yard passes, this can mean moving the ball up 5 yards in the formation eg from centre back to full back or defensive midfielder to number ten. The key is that he ball is usually moving forwards which is why i highlight the 279 forwards pases to 140 backwards, almost a 2:1 ratio – very high for a Premier League team. Most of the time this vertical passing will be noticed when its incisive and over longer distances, such as the two balls played on the Holtby goal against Seattle.

      Thanks for reading and I hope that answers your question?

      • Tully Gilbert 22nd July 2014 at 10:38 pm #

        Yes you did answer it. How often do you think Vorm will play if he is signed? He is quality so i dont see when he will play behind Lloris. Also how good is the young left back Davies?

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 23rd July 2014 at 10:33 am #

          I think Vorm will get the FA CUp and League Cup games, the Europa League i’m not too sure about as it depends on how seriously Maurcio Pochettino takes it. At Southampton he rotated his keeper for League Cup and FA Cup games, but he also had to contend with a long term injury to Artur Boruc who was his number one. I think Pochettino really felt this as he rotated between young keeper Paulo Gazzaniga and ageing veteran Kelvin Davies and doesn’t want to be hurt by this again. I also guess that with a keeper so quick off his line as Hugo, injury is always a possibility (as we saw at Everton), and so having a very capable number two is a wise choice with all the games we have this season.

          Ben Davies is a player that i like, but also very young and makes mistakes. His zone was where you could get in and score on Swansea and people highlight that he made more tackles than Luke Shaw, but that is because teams attacked him knowing he was their weak spot. There’s always a flip side though and the reason he was so vulnerable was that he was tasked with getting forward and delivering crosses for Swansea – something Pochettino wants from his left back – this often left Davies out of position. Whether he’ll be provided more cover in Pochettino’s system than he was getting from their CBs we’ll see, but Davies has a lot of potential and could be quite a mouldable player to what the new boss needs. I’ll be doing a post on him and Vorm next week after the Pochettino series.

  9. Graham 22nd July 2014 at 11:33 am #

    Fantastic article as always, Mark.

    I’ve been posting my own, far more condensed articles on a facebook fan site for a while now and after posting a write-up on the Seattle game I suddenly remembered your site. Thanks for the work you put in, it helps me keep my sanity when I’m fending off comments and insults from people saying I don’t know what I’m talking about when I can see my same points explained so much more thoroughly and professionally here!

    I would like to ask if you think our biggest transfer priority now should be a right footed central defender who’s comfortable on the ball. I’ve made the assumption that Vertonghen is one of our key players for this new system of play but I really can’t see how the others we have can fill the role effectively. I see some potential in Chiriches, but if I remember correctly he favours his left foot too doesn’t he?

    Thanks, and I look for ward to seeing your brilliant detailed analysis again this season.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 22nd July 2014 at 12:49 pm #

      Great comment Graham. Vlad does seem to favour his left foot, but he is supposed to be two footed. He has played occasionally for Romania as a right back.

      When he has played for us he has been on the left side of the centre back pairing with either Dawson or Kaboul on the right. Whether we need a right-sided centre back really depends on Mauricio Pochettino’s plans for Dawson and Kaboul. Daws has been rumoured to be off, but one of these two will need to go if we are to bring in someone new, otherwise we will have three contending for the position. Also bear in mind we have Milos Veljkovic coming through who is highly rated and plays on the right side of the centre back pairing, maybe he will force his way in to Pochettino’s plans?

      • Graham 22nd July 2014 at 3:13 pm #

        Thanks Mark. Yes I’d forgotten about young Veljkovic. I could actually see both Daws and Kabs being offloaded if this young lad can make his mark but I’d imagine it’s more likely as an understudy to a more experienced man this coming season. We’ll see though won’t we. I’m very excited by the season ahead!

  10. Matt 22nd July 2014 at 2:00 pm #

    Really excellent article thanks. I think as others have stated, it’s going to be interesting to see which players we acquire to suit the system. I guess from my point of view as well as Graham says about us needing a Centre Half, we also need a “Jay Rodriguez”. Eriksen could well do the Davies role and Lamela the Lallana, particularly as he played very central against Seattle but where we seem to have been struggling over the last few years is a forward who can play wide. I like Lennon but he can only play in a 442. I was surprised we didnt do more to push for Remy and i’m even more surprised to see us chase Griezman particularly as he doesnt really fit in any of the positions above. Thoughts?

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 22nd July 2014 at 5:02 pm #

      I think we need to wait and see what happens when the players who were at the World Cup return as its far too early to say. This will give Pochettino a chance to assess the squad and what he feels he needs.

      He also may flip his system, for example against Seattle he played with the wide forward on the right to start with, rather than on the left as Jay Rodriguez usually does. Now, was this just because he used Andros Townsend in this role and Andros prefers this side, or is this a permanent switch this season? Of course Lamela is no stranger to playing on the right either and he could occupy the wide forward “Rodriguez role” but from the right side also. There are many other permutations and one pre-season game is too early to tell, so we’ll have to wait a few more weeks in to pre-season to see if this remains.

  11. Trembly 22nd July 2014 at 2:45 pm #

    Ditto to the comments above. First time i’ve read one of your articles and have been impressed by the quality of analysis. Reminds me a bit of Windy but with a different style. Looking forward to more. Cheers Trembles

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 23rd July 2014 at 11:11 am #

      Thanks for reading Trembles, much appreciate the positive feedback. Hope to see you on the blog again soon or chat on Twitter or Facebook.

  12. SomeDude 22nd July 2014 at 4:54 pm #

    Hey, great to see you’re back and with a blessing for Pochitino! I had no idea that Southampton’s possession was so high, leaders, who’d believe it? Anyway, I am pretty much of the mind that this is exactly what we need. He seems to like youth academy players (something we have in spades), having a diverse range of midfielders (again check) plus he will bring stylistic, strategic and tactical improvements.

    I didn’t get to catch the Seattle game but based on SH last season and what you say of early pre-season he could be end up representing fabled middle-ground between AVB’s at times too-tedious control and Sherwood’s decision to put as much stock in playing with “heart” as possible.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 23rd July 2014 at 10:12 am #

      Thanks SomeDude and good to see you back also. Good point about Pochettino representing some middle ground, looking forward to an exciting season!

  13. John W (Canada) 22nd July 2014 at 6:40 pm #

    Great analysis. I am really looking forward to seeing Pochettino inspiring confidence in our team, providing a game plan and truly coaching people who have great promise but previously seemed to lack tactical sense. I am thinking specifically of Walker, Kaboul and Vlad who didn’t seem to know that their number one duty was defence. Let’s face it, we defended much like Brazil did against Germany on lots of occasions last year under both coaches and generally lacked ideas going forward. Maybe we’ll also see Soldado flourish on getting some good ammunition to work with and Holtby, Dembele and Lamela fulfill their promise given that people know how and where to make their runs.

    Not sure if Paulhino will make the grade here due to his seeming reliance on sideways passing and poor shooting ability. He plays much like a headless chicken to me with no particular skills. I’d much rather see Holtby or Dembele take over his role as they can both tackle, pick a pass and have better shots.

    Yes, all in all it seems the last couple if years have been wasted under firstly a coach who had us hamstrung by tactics and a second one who did not appear at all tactically astute. Oh how I am looking forward to seeing us play with some style, grace and organizational awareness. I have great confidence in Pochettino as I just loved the way Southampton played last year, especially in the games against City and Arsenal. Given your analysis I am even more confident that Poch is the man for the job. Thanks – John (on my way to Toronto to see us play tomorrow)

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 23rd July 2014 at 10:16 am #

      Great post John W and enjoy the game in Toronto. Make lots of noise. COYS!

  14. KF 22nd July 2014 at 10:42 pm #

    Hi Mark,

    I never post comments on blogs but just wanted to de-lurk to say this article, as with all of your work, is fantastic and very much appreciated. Looking forward to the next few articles!

    I was wondering, since you are particularly well informed, are there any books on football tactics you would recommend?


    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 23rd July 2014 at 10:54 am #

      Thank you for the kind words KF, appreciate you taking the time to read.

      There are a few books you can try if you haven’t already read them. A good place to start is Jonathan Wilson’s Inverting the Pyramid which is a very good read. Football and Chess by Adam Wells is a really intriguing read also. This book on Louis van Gaal and the philosophy of the Ajax coaches is also very good on the philosophies and tactics of the Dutch system and especially 4-3-3. Soccer Modern Tactics examines coaches like Sacchi, Lippi and Ancelotti and is worth a read, giving great insight from these coaches on their styles and systems if you can get past the bad translation to English, but the diagrams are good.

      Hope these suggestions help and thanks for reading.

  15. itoe Ebeku 28th July 2014 at 10:05 am #

    My starting 11 from a last season perspective; loris Walker Rose Kaboul Vertonghen Sandro Dembele Eriksen Townsend Lennon Adebeyor. But this season, Adebayor should leave and his replacement should be Benteke or Bony. A new left back to compete with Rose.Davies has been sign though i thaught of Contreao or Rojo. Someone Like Gustavo orDiame,or Medel should be sign to compete with Sandro.

  16. Itoe Ebeku 28th July 2014 at 5:44 pm #

    If Pochettino wants to succeed he must know about the quality of the players. With due respect to all the Spurs players, Pochettino should note that footballers like Naughton,Fryers are not good enough and must be sold. He should note that, Paulinho, Capoue, Holtby are average footballers. I know Holtby is a hardworking player but he should be loan again or sold, since he is a player you cannot call Skillful. If Pochettino wants to into the new season without any uncertainty, he must sell the unpredictable Adebayor and the unreliable Soldado.I accept the fact that Adebayor really helped us last season but i am fully sure Adebayor is in london to enjoy himself and not to die for the club. I have been hearing Spurs fans crying about who will play for us as Bale did, but i can assure you guys that if Townsend is well nursed he could get himself in that highest category. It should be noted that footballers like Dembele Walker and Vertonghen must start for us no matter which Players are brought into the club. The club should ensure that Eriksen our Maestro is kept happy since he is the one who bring something unique into the team. We must keep Sandro since he reliabe and Chadli since he looks like sound and spectacular player. We better sell the empty Paulinho and average Capoue inorder to ensure that the Monster;Sandro reamains in the club. Pochettino should not that if he can exploit the; Quality and strenght of the Belgian beasts,Dembele, the paste and courage of Walker,Lennon,Townsend,Rose the creativity of Eriksen, the power of Sandro and Kaboul, the stability of Vertonghen,Chadli, the class of Lamela and Loris we will be sure to win the League.