Tactical issues Mauricio Pochettino must address: Pressing

Mauricio Pochettino needs to look at our attitude to pressing in greater depth.

Tactically Mauricio Pochettino had an up and down first season in charge. He made strides with getting the team to play inline with his vision and philosophy, but plenty of issues went unresolved.

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 is required to resolve it. We’re going to start with pressing.

Pressing under Pochettino

Pressing and quickly winning the ball back was Mauricio Pochettino’s calling card at Southampton. It would be the first thing that commentators and analysts would mention when talking about his team.

However, contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t relentless pressure from the front such as Barcelona employ, but it was frequent enough when set off by certain triggers. For example, the ball going out short in to the full back area from the goalkeeper or when an opposition player was caught deep in his half with the ball facing his own goal.

In the early weeks of last season, we rarely saw this tactic employed, as Mauricio Pochettino indicated that the players were not in the physical condition required to play this way.

There were glimpses of a pressing game being taught, such as on Nacer Chadli’s goal in Arsenal 1 Spurs 1 at the Emirates. Matthew Flamini was pounced upon as he pondered on the ball and Chadli stole in-behind to profit.


Flamini is dispossessed by Eriksen.

Another glimpse came a couple of matches later, at the Etihad. Ryan Mason robbed Fernando in a similar manner with Christian Eriksen then going on to lash the ball home.


Mason tackles Fernando before Eriksen scores.

Both performances saw these glimpses of a pressing game, but in each match we were for the most part playing on the counter. We did, however, pounce in a similar way. In each case, a defensive midfielder with the ball facing his own goal.

Since these early games in Pochettino’s reign, the team’s fitness improved and it became a big feature in some of our matches, but in others we backed off. It was a real tactical inconsistency.

When deployed, our pressing was arguably at it’s most successful with the inclusion of Mousa Dembele and Erik Lamela. As a number ten, Mousa Dembele proved to be a real destructive force closing down the opposition higher up the pitch. With his strength and sizeable frame, he was able to shrug opponents off the ball and win it back in key areas. Lamela has only shown flashes of potential with the ball, but his tiger-like hunting of it when possession had been lost was extremely under-rated.

During a stretch of the season, the pair were both becoming regulars in the line-up and contributing to hem opponents in to their own half. Our trip to West Brom saw both of them as big contributors in a team pressing to overhaul what became a pesky Baggies side under Tony Pulis.


Ball recoveries vs West Brom.

At home to Arsenal, the pressing was a joy to watch. The Gunners had just 42% of the ball and at times couldn’t get out of their half of the field such was the intensity of our ball recovery.


Spurs ball recoveries vs Arsenal.

After the Arsenal game, an errant first half by the team at home to West Ham saw both Dembele and Lamela dropped to the bench. Lamela was restored towards the end of the season, but the intensity of our pressing fell. This had a knock-on effect, as it put extra pressure on our frail defence.

Not long after the West Ham game, up at Manchester United, we had a taste of our own medicine as the Red Devils hounded us throughout the first 45 and we barely made it across the halfway line. Pochettino had been using Dembele and Lamela to push up behind Harry Kane as we sought to close the opposition down. At Old Trafford, Pochettino didn’t include either of them from the off and we didn’t bring any pressure, as we simply let Man Utd play the ball out.


No press, X = where our pressure should be.

Against a team that had struggled with its centre backs turning the ball over and defensive errors gifting the opposition chances, the lack of any kind of pressing from us was a poor tactic.

Pochettino could argue that it was Manchester United away, but the inconsistency in whether we’ve tried a pressing game had been going on all season. We had been hounding the likes of West Brom away and Arsenal at home, but then backed off at home to Swansea and away to QPR before traveling to Old Trafford.

After the Manchester United game, we continued to back off the next weekend at home to Leicester City. The Foxes struggled last season against high pressing teams, but even in getting embroiled in a shootout, we didn’t seek to recover the ball often enough in their half.


Spurs ball recoveries vs Leicester.

The impetus seemed to have been lost with the switch in personnel. Mauricio Pochettino tried to upgrade our attack at the expense of our ability to close down.

Our head coach had brought players in to the starting eleven that could get forward much quicker either with or without the ball in Nacer Chadli and Andros Townsend. However, this was at the expense of those that are much better in recovering the ball through pressing or getting in to defensive shape in Dembele and Lamela.

Mousa Dembele has the potential to offer more on the ball, but his dribble drives and short, often sideways passing, can slow our attacks down. Erik Lamela frequently makes bad decisions in respect to his timing of passes, over-dribbles and lacks a consistent end product at this stage of his very young career.

Tactical issues Mauricio Pochettino must address

Last season, it’s almost as if Mauricio Pochettino went one way with his calling card of pressing the opposition and then flip-flopped in favour of going the other. He got more speed and the ability to get the ball forward quicker in to the team, but that came at the expense of his patented pressing game.

The knock-on effect of this was on the defensive end. We weren’t solid at the back all season, but we were even frailer when Pochettino tried to bring more attacking, speedier players back in to the team.

A further problem is that Nabil Bentaleb and Ryan Mason have been left even more exposed by this switch. With Mousa Dembele in front of them they had much more of a screen to protect them. Without the Belgian in the line-up there was not much resistance from Christian Eriksen, along with Nacer Chadli or Andros Townsend flanking the Dane.

Mauricio Pochettino has some serious thinking to do with regards to his pressing game this season. It is an important part of his mantra, central to his philosophy, but he ended up neglecting it for the sake of trying to add impetus to our attack.

We wait to see if pre-season brings any pointers as to how we will play this season. The players we have so far brought in have all been defenders that can get the ball forward quickly, not attackers that are able to close down from the front. I don’t expect us to press and hound every team; away at Manchester City or Chelsea this could be suicide. But, I do expect us to have an identity this season as to whether we are a proactive or reactive side, as last term it was difficult to tell.

What are your thoughts on our pressing game?
Look out for the next post in the series on Monday. Follow on Twitter or Facebook to be the first notified when its available.

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27 Responses to Tactical issues Mauricio Pochettino must address: Pressing

  1. Ses 17th July 2015 at 7:19 pm #

    This is an absolutely great post and a great and correct assessment of how we played/pressed last season!!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 17th July 2015 at 7:30 pm #

      Thanks Ses, I am really curious to see if we develop a consistent pressing strategy this season.

  2. yash shah 17th July 2015 at 9:11 pm #

    Amazing article man!! How accurate and meticulous the analysis has been!! Would be a crime to miss out on reading these

  3. Reidar 18th July 2015 at 12:20 am #

    Love reading your work, and as usual youre spot-on with this post as well. Do you think the reason to the poor pressing is that Pocch lacks players that are able to win the ball on the oppositions half? Find it hard to believe that his philosophy is so much harder to adapt into for us than with Saints – wich was a joy to watch when he was there. Cheers from norway

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 19th July 2015 at 5:47 pm #

      Thanks Reidar. I think it is this that Pochettino thinks that the players he has can’t do this. The level and nature of opposition also plays a part but i think he has shown some teams too much respect.

  4. Bretto 18th July 2015 at 1:30 am #

    Great article. There are some dilemms in the match day setup. Dembele is good with the pressing but is much when pressing in the AM role and less effective in the double pivot. When he plays in the AM he is not as Ericksen with the little through balls so we lose the attacking edge. If he plays in the double pivot he tends to run around a bit like a headless chicken – trying to close down everything at once. Also for a fomrer striker in his younger years I’m disapppointed by how little he shoots at goal. So if he goes in the AM role that means Ericksen goes out to the left and that means he has less influence in attack and leaves Rose exposed (although Bentaleb is very good at providing cover when Rose pushes up). Ericksen in the AM role means less pressing but he is pretty good. So what is the solution? I’m not sure.

    One thing perhaps is to take Mason out and have Eriksen sit back in that position. Demebele plays initially in the AM role but essentially swaps with Eriksen to change tempo. Even as I write this I am having misgivings as I think Mason needs to be in there developing.

    This is a tough one to sort out with the current squad.

    • Zaph Mann 18th July 2015 at 8:19 am #

      You’re not paid ££££££ to solve it either. The article and your thoughts capture the nature from a fan’s perspective, however…

      Games are won and lost by moods, emotions and key player ups or downs – it’s still a sport. Some of the analysis seems spot on, but often it’s after the fact and after months. For example I called out the lack of tracking back by Townsend long before the analysis here made it a feature…
      Imagine what it’s like to deal with this real time, with points at stake.
      Poch is well ahead of all of us.

      These perspectives are interesting and I’m sure he has taken in them all (I Used to coach/manage) and we’ll see what he can do to change things – remarkable that Spurs were 5th after a failure season.

      • Mark 20th July 2015 at 4:14 pm #

        “Some of the analysis seems spot on, but often it’s after the fact and after months. For example I called out the lack of tracking back by Townsend long before the analysis here made it a feature…”

        “These perspectives are interesting and I’m sure he has taken in them all (I Used to coach/manage)”

        What exactly are you trying to accomplish with the above quotes? Thanks for stating the obvious though. None of us here are being paid to solve anything about the Spurs. He’s just a blogger, and a pretty good one at that, who’s taken the time to break down the player’s/team’s strengths and failings in a clear, concise, and organized manner. Congrats on beating him to the punch on Townsend’s tracking back issue. Do you want a cookie or something? Sorry, but that comment comes across as petty and with a hint of jealousy thrown in. Are you not getting enough attention in your life?

        Finally, it’s all well and good that you used to be a coach/manager, but if you think you or anyone else including Pochettino are infallible in assessing which players and tactics would be best utilized for a given opponent/situation, than you’re kidding yourself. We’ve all seen incompetent managing and coaching at the highest levels of sport, and even though I don’t think Poch fits that description, I don’t see him as being without flaws either. I’ve only been reading this blog for a short time, and you make some good points, but the above comments add nothing of value to the discussion here.

        • Zaph 20th July 2015 at 4:52 pm #

          Hi Mark,

          I agree that it’s an excellent blog & blogger, and didn’t intend to criticise it, and don’t think I did – SF reveals things that we don’t see often. You just begun reading you say, after a while you may notice some themes that (just like coaches & pundits have) recur.

          I tried to illustrate that after a while the same points get made – so was suggesting we consider other reasons why things appear to go on as they do. As SF gets to more games than most of us can, he’s more likely to be able to have clues to answer those (other) perspectives I’m trying to raise.

          The coaching reference is relevant because the experience informs the situation. For example, sometimes the team would be like an organism that’s flowing, other times malfuncntioning with the same eleven players, sometimes it was as important to read the mood/emotional condition, or the mental clarity of individual players on the day. Over time (Poch has had one season) you would also come to know if certain players could ‘come through’ and take hold of themselves and affect the game; whether they needed a ‘bollocking’ or a simple new instruction.

          You cherry picked my comment, and sound techy, better keep that cookie (biscuit?) for yourself.

          • Mark 20th July 2015 at 6:53 pm #

            I’m not going to get into a back and forth here, since that too wouldn’t add any useful substance to the blog, but I cherry picked your comments for the reasons I stated.

            I understand that having previous coaching/managerial experience helps add a certain level of validity to your comments, but my point still stands. It doesn’t make you or anyone else infallible in the reasoning process.

            I’ve already noticed that some things get repeated on here, but sometimes it’s just easier to do that as opposed to finding a new way to say the same thing. I appreciate that you’re able to look at things from a different perspective, and have no problem with you encouraging the rest of us to do the same thing, but I just didn’t see the need for you to call SF out the way you did. I don’t know what to tell ya, if you don’t see that the comments I quoted you on, where unnecessary at best. Perhaps, it was just the way you said them, and not the point you were making that came across as petty.

            As I said in my previous post, you make some really good points on here, better than most, but it would be nice if you would just stick to those points, without calling out the blogger in the manner that you did. My response was admittedly a bit touchy, and I apologize for that, but my reason for doing so was not.

            As you will find out in time, I’m not just relatively new to the this blog, but I’ve only been a big futbol fan for a couple years now, and have no where near the knowledge that you, SF, and some of the others on here have. That being the case, I don’t post much on here, other than to ask questions from time to time, but I’m very knowledgeable about the sporting landscape as whole, and it doesn’t take a genius to realize when someone is going beyond just making a point for the betterment of the group, as you did above.

            Anyway, I want to apologize again for my tone previously, and look forward to reading many more of your posts, hopefully without the added insults. Have a good day Zaph!

            • Zaph 20th July 2015 at 7:06 pm #

              Thanks Mark,

              I’ll try to watch out for ‘insults’ though I don’t see them that way, it’s more like a conversation down the pub with your best mate:

              There it would be much more forthright and rather than everyone stroking each other and agreeing, it’s the British culture to put forward challenging counters. No one takes offense as the counter-point is often not even disagreement, and even if it is it’s OK.

              Anyhow, no issues, sorry if I offended you, can’t get biscuits off my mind now… had to cut them out of the diet…

              • Mark 20th July 2015 at 7:24 pm #

                lmao on the biscuits comment :)

                As for the rest, I wouldn’t doubt that my lack of British culture could cause me to misunderstand someone on here, since I live in the US, but saying that you “called out the lack of tracking back by Townsend long before the analysis here made it a feature…” just came across as a little egotistical IMO. In the end, SF just let it go, and perhaps I should have done the same. All good though Zaph!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 19th July 2015 at 5:51 pm #

      Very good points Bretto, it is a tough one. I’d like to see Dembele in there against weaker opposition to hound them and Eriksen against the stronger teams away from home where we’d be more likely to show them some respect and play more counter attacking. Not ideal, but it does mean that we’d hopefully hound and make it difficult for weaker teams to get out. Against stronger sides it’d give Eriksen more room to play, of course we’d need better defensive players in the midfield two behind him.

  5. Jerry 18th July 2015 at 5:48 am #

    Consistency = doing the same thing every week = predictability.
    Could this be a factor in MPs thinking?
    I may well be talking bollocks of course.
    Great article, thanks as ever.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 19th July 2015 at 5:59 pm #

      You’re not talking bollocks Jerry. Consistency doesn’t have to be predictable. A team can engage higher up the park and push their defensive line up behind this to hound the opposition or they can still engage with a fast and hounding press as the ball enters say the middle third. Both can be proactive strategies, but are different executions of it.

      I’d like to see us develop a consistent proactive or reactive strategy to give our team an identity as i don’t feel we have one at the minute.

  6. derek fowles 18th July 2015 at 10:25 am #

    Only just signed up to this, but what a clear and concise assessment , keep it coming.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 19th July 2015 at 6:01 pm #

      Thanks for signing up Derek, look forward to chatting Spurs with you this season.

  7. anotherwisemonkey 18th July 2015 at 1:26 pm #

    Excellent analysis. I’ve been thinking that the signing we need next is actually an AM to put pressure on Eriksen; his is the only position in the team where there isn’t a like for like replacement. Ideally someone who has a bit of the qualities of Eriksen and Dembele. Is there anyone out there you think fits the profile and who would be a realistic target for Spurs? Davies signing for Spurs has brought the best out of Rose…

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 19th July 2015 at 6:08 pm #

      Good question. I’d quite like to revolve Eriksen and Dembele in the AM position, but looks like Mousa could be on his way to Sunderland.

      • Mark 20th July 2015 at 4:19 pm #

        Not according to this link:

        I got a laugh out the one guys comment too: “Cant see them selling him when they [are] trying to buy the Belgium squad.”

        Anyway, another great read in general Mark. Looking forward to the 2nd article in the series…

        • Mark 20th July 2015 at 4:31 pm #

          Never mind, just now saw that the second article came out today, perhaps as I was typing my response to Zaph Mann above.

          • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 20th July 2015 at 4:43 pm #

            Haha, great post!

        • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 20th July 2015 at 4:41 pm #

          Thanks for reading Mark. Unless we have a similar type replacement that is equally as good at closing down and winning the ball back, but has the bonus of being able to pass it forward and get a few goals, then i’d like to see us keep Dembele. I think he’s the style/type of player that we’d only realise just how much we miss him if we let him go.

          • Mark 20th July 2015 at 5:04 pm #

            My sentiments exactly on Dembele. I just wish there was a way to include both Erikson and him in the starting 11 against the better squads. If anything you can alternate them against the lesser opponents to keep them from getting worn out/injured as the season progresses, but until the team can bring in a more well-rounded player as you suggested, those two should be on the pitch against the better squads in order to maximize the pressing game you mentioned, and still have the creativity that Erikson brings. Is there anyway you can see that happening either via a change in formation, or just an understanding between the players on the field?

            • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 20th July 2015 at 5:12 pm #

              Good question and one i think that Pochettino has tried to solve, but it invariably involves moving Eriksen to the left where he is a liability to offer defensive cover for Rose.

              I think there are a couple of ways to do it. The first is to play 4-3-3 and have a proper defensive midfielder and then have Dembele as a number 8 and Eriksen at 10 in a three man midfield. The second would be to go to a back three and play a 3-4-2-1 and have Dembele and Eriksen as the pair behind Kane.

  8. Mark 20th July 2015 at 8:57 pm #

    Perhaps, this is just my U.S. background talking, but what a bout a 4-4-2 with a Diamond Midfield? Something like:








    with Bentaleb playing more of a defensive role along with Alderweireld, and Dembe pressing forward more.

    If you look at it, there’s a lot of flexibility with that line-up as far as mixing and matching parts. Soldado can come in for either Chadli or Kane until a replacement can be found for the probably outgoing Adebayor, Dembele can spell Erickson from time to time, Mason for Dembe or Bentaleb, Stambouli for Alderweirald, Davis for Rose, Trippier for Walker, Wimmer for Vertonghen, & Fazio for Dier. Obviously, you wouldn’t make all these changes on the same day, but the pieces are there for that system.

    I think it’s a good balance of offense/defense as well as youth& experience, all though the word “experience” is being used lightly here(lol) seeing as they Spurs have such a young squad.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st July 2015 at 11:21 am #

      A very good suggestion and could work. Also gets Bentaleb further forward where i feel he would be more effective.