Mauricio Pochettino has to look at the tactics of our defence and address a number of issues.
Mauricio Pochettino has made strides with getting the team to play in his image. He’s enjoyed successes, but there have also been shortcomings that have been exposed by better quality opposition.
In a series of posts I’m going to look at each one of these issues in turn, analyse what’s been done and what else is required to resolve it. After looking at the tactical issues involved with our pressing game, next we move on to look at our defensive back line.
When looking at our defence, I see a number of talented individuals with plenty of potential. However, last season, they didn’t function well together or gel as a cohesive unit. This is due to inexperience, the system we played and a lack of both communication and a vocal leader.
The defensive unit does have to be extremely well drilled and organized in any Pochettino side. His philosophy is attacking as we look to get the ball forward quicker, but this also leaves us more open and vulnerable at the back by committing men forward.
The Full backs are an obvious position to highlight; they are open to being exposed by their high positioning. They are also not helped by the inverted wide players ahead of them drifting infield to overload the centre. This can see both players on one side caught out by quick transitions.
Take Leicester’s first goal at the Lane last season, where both Danny Rose and Nacer Chadli were left upfield by the swiftness of the Foxes’ counter attack.
This is the system we play; the full backs are required to get forward with us using inverted wide players that move inside ahead of them. It is a risk/reward balance and the improved attacking numbers from Danny Rose last season are testament to the gains, but they also come at a price in the defensive phase.
High defensive line
Often deploying a high defensive line sees our centre backs vulnerable to pace when they squeeze up the field. Fazio is the obvious example, but Jan Vertonghen is not rapid across the ground in recovery situations either. The Leicester goal above highlighted that with David Nugent having the footspeed to get in-behind Vertonghen and Dier. As did Marouane Fellaini on his strike at Old Trafford and Mario Gomez’s halfway-line steal and rumble up the pitch in our Europa League tie in Florence. Neither of these players: Nugent, Fellaini or Gomez are particularly fast, but highlighted the lack of speed in our centre back pairing.
What’s more, Mauricio Pochettino coaches front foot defending from his back four. Impetuous decisions being made by the likes of Rose and Vertonghen, who can often dive in needlessly trying to stop an attack when high up the pitch, have hurt us.
Against Arsenal, Vertonghen needlessly dives in trying to steal the ball from Giroud. This allows the Arsenal man to lay the ball off to Welbeck, who gets on our high line immediately and through the gap left by Vertonghen’s challenge. He then centered for Ozil to score.
Decision-making is a key part of the defensive player’s mentality in the system of Mauricio Pochettino. Players are expected to have a decent IQ when it comes to making the right footballing decision and making passes that don’t put themselves or their teammates in trouble.
Impetuous challenges, one form of decision making, and the high line have hurt us in defensive situations. Sloppy passing turnovers by players in vulnerable positions are another that haven’t helped us out. For example Nabil Bentaleb’s square pass straight to Wayne Rooney to run through and score at Old Trafford. There have been many more examples throughout the season and too many to list here. Overall, more care, attention and better decisions are needed when players are in vulnerable situations with the ball that could leave us exposed.
Another example of decision-making revolves around tracking and marking. I’ve talked before about how Kyle Walker can struggle when faced with making quick decisions about who to track and that has haunted him recently. The 3-0 loss to Man Utd highlighted this time and time again, as he was forced to rapidly make choices between tracking Fellaini and Young. As you can see below, Walker is caught in two minds as to whether to go to Fellaini, who Mason has let go or to get back to his marking job on Ashley Young, which has his body twisted the wrong way.
Eric Dier didn’t help Walker out in this game and neither did Ryan Mason who should’ve been tracking Fellaini despite being at a significant size disadvantage.
Over the years, Walker has had the benefit of a Gallas, Dawson or King as the centre back alongside him and this has helped him out with some of his decision-making. Last season he had either Dier or Fazio next to him who are both vastly inexperienced in the Premier League and he had a very underwhelming campaign.
Tactical issues Mauricio Pochettino must address
Mauricio Pochettino has a number of tactical considerations to consider.
Firstly, does he continue to operate with flying full backs and inside moving wide players ahead of them?
The second is does he continue to try and play a high line and coach front foot defending?
Thirdly, our defence at the minute has some good individuals, but they are in no way a cohesive unit nor do we have a vocal leader or organiser.
What’s been done so far?
After making a number of defensive additions last summer, that probably weren’t Mauricio Pochettino signings, we’ve made moves to re-enforce our defence with players that should suit the Argentine.
Kieran Trippier is an ideal guy for Pochettino’s system and will help fill a right back slot that was a revolving door last season. Toby Alderweireld brings experience and also that much-needed speed if he plays as a centre back, as well as sound decision-making that we’ve sometimes lacked. Kevin Wimmer has potential, but again lacks experience. We also don’t know how he’ll handle the pace of the Premier League, although he won’t be outdone in the strength and power stakes.
What’s left to do?
There are still two things left for Mauricio Pochettino to address.
The first is cohesion. Last season we saw chopping and changing amongst our full back and centre back pairings and this affected the unit’s cohesion as a whole. Chemistry will take time to develop, but needs to be worked on in pre-season and on the training ground.
The second doesn’t appear to have been addressed yet. We’ve been blessed with some vocal organisers at the back over the years and Mauricio Pochettino desperately needs one to settle our defence down. Jan Vertonghen has the most experience, but isn’t one of these. Eric Dier may become one, but certainly isn’t at the moment. Wimmer is in the same boat and may develop in to one in the future. Fazio is not one and won’t get the playing time to be one. Alderweireld has experience but is not yet a vocal leader and organiser. This does leave us with problems and Mauricio Pochettino will need someone that he can trust to take charge.
Last season only four teams conceded more goals in the Premier League than us. Inspite of this, the setup and style of Mauricio Pochettino’s defensive system will not be changing. Moves have been made to reinforce and strengthen it, but come next May, we could well be still bemoaning the lack of a vocal leader and organiser.