What Spurs could expect from Pochettino

Mauricio Pochettino calls upon the philosophies of Marcelo Bielsa, now coach at Marseilles for his inspiration and tactical strategy.

What Spurs could expect from Pochettino


Marcelo Bielsa was his former boss at Newell's Old Boys and for the Argentinian national side and Pochettino has adopted the 'intense pressure' approach that Bielsa sides use.

The Pochettino system is a 4-2-3-1 formation with high-pressing, two defensive midfielders, ball playing centre halves, distribution from the goalkeeper on the floor and the fullbacks providing width. An attacking trio support the lone striker and he places a significant emphasis on passing.

His defensive midfield duo play staggered, one slightly in front of the other who has more attacking responsibility. This player acts as the link player so will cover a lot of grass over the course of 90 minutes.

The Keys of his system are:
Retaining possession of the ball
High pressing of opponents
Players to stay on their feet
High tempo
Short passing
High defensive line

Always have someone spare when building from the back
Play vertical balls rather than sideways balls
Attacking midfield and three players in front of him interchange positions

Retaining possession of the ball enables two things, it allows opportunities for you to score and prevents opportunities for your opponent to score. The ball is only in play in a Premier League game for on average around 62 of the 90 minutes If a side has 60% possession of the ball they have on average 37.2 minutes to score, while the opposition only have 24.8 minutes.

If a side has 65% possession then they have the ball 40.3 minutes and limit the opponents to 21.7 minutes on average. The value is obvious.

Sandro is typical of the type of defensive midfielder Tottenham would need within a Pochettino system, one that tackles but tries to do so without going to ground in the Scotty Parker mode. The reason being if you are on the ground you are out of the game, having to get up and catch up which may present an opportunity for your opponent to exploit. Danny Rose for instance is a defender who appears to go to ground more in the tackle, great if you win the ball, trouble if you don't.

We are well versed with the high defensive line now which requires fast full-back and the subsequent squeezing of play which Hugo Lloris has done an excellent job of sweeping up behind. That allows the pressing of opponents high up the field where the team can hunt in a pack to win the ball back.

All that sound very similar to Andre Villas-Boas especially when you add in the short passing game to eliminate risk, but the key difference is that Pochettino prefers a high tempo whereas with AVB it was a slow tempo. Also the interchanging of the forward players from a set position is different from the more static central striker to feed or feed off.

Thus the big advantage the Pochettino system has over the AVB system is in attack where someone like Eriksen or Sigurdsson could benefit significantly.

Pochettino pressing game

He first asks players to close the central zones pushing the opposition into the wide areas of the pitch. Centrally there are more passing options and it's easy to switch play. Central midfield is the heartbeat of any team, it's often said you win the central midfield battle and you win the game so he looks to control it.

The object is to close off all the passing channels to make the opponent play the ball into the area you want them to play it. The theory is you try to leave your opponent one passing option, the worst option. If you have pushed a team wide the touchline cuts off passing options and limits space for them to work in giving you an advantage.

With the left sided weakness we have had in the last few seasons due to arguably our best player usually playing there, we'll need to improve how we deal with situations when we have pushed teams out wide.

Generally when playing a pressing game there are two options, you either push the opponent centrally where you out number them or you push them wide restricting the passing options to forward, forward inside diagonally, sideways, inside diagonally backward and backwards because of the touchline.

Employing these tactics means the midfield players have to be super fit as they have a massive workload. It's a role we bought Paulinho to play and i'd expect to see much better from him next season. Any squad therefore needs to have plenty of cover in this area with the players needing to be rotated to avoid burn out towards the end of the season.

Playing the same midfield players all the time with pressing tactics is not an option, especially with a potential 17 Europa League games to add to the 38 Premier League fixtures, FA Cup and League Cup ties.

Pochettino like his players to press as high up the pitch as possible with one of the front players making the decision when to trigger pressing instead of the more normal  defensive midfield player triggering it, as under AVB. He employs 'waves of pressure'.

The initial wave comes from a front pair who try to force the opponents goalkeeper and or defenders into a long ball clearance. Who the pair are depends upon which side the ball is and where the opponents are. Pochettino shifts from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-1-1 when defending.

The second wave of pressure is applied if the defence has managed to pass the ball to the deep lying central midfielder. Pressure is applied aggressively when he is facing his own goal so as to not allow him the time and space to dictate the pace of the game the way someone like Michael carrick does at Manchester United.

If the defensive midfielder drops deep between the centre-backs to collect the ball then his sides man mark and cut off passing channels to limit his passing options. As with every pressing strategy everyone has a role to play and if one isn't doing his job the whole system falls apart, thus everyone must know their role and the roles of their teammates.

Against Liverpool at Anfield for instance Gylfi Sigurdsson playing central was not pressing his opponents when Lennon and Soldado were. Liverpool all the time in the world to pick the pass they wanted and punish us which they did. The defence have to push up and play a high line to close the gaps between the lines leaving little space for the opponents to work in.One player not pressing gives a release valve for opponents.

With the two defensive midfield players staggered in front of the defence, the more forward of the two has to provide cover if for instance the winger is out of position. The winger would then take his role when he gets back until they can safely swap over again. Generally the defensive midfielders okay behind the advanced full-backs providing a back three or four with the two centre-backs.

To achieve this requires a tremendous workload on the training ground but fortunately our players have played a high pressing game before so they won't be learning the strategy from new. That should reduce the training time required to bring all players up to speed with the system.

When his sides lose the ball while attacking the front four immediately press, the man closest presses the ball the others press the surrounding players cutting off passes while the full-backs either join in or drop back depending upon the likelihood of successfully winning possession back.

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Attention to detail

Pochettino is a very detailed coach. Spurs players will have particular drills depending upon the opposition situation. For instance if the opposition attack down the right from a goal kick there will be one drill and another drill if they attack down the left.

Football is not a game of go out and play but a game of in this situation we do this and in that situation we do that. Throw in individual skill and creativity and you have a chance of winning.

Players will be taught positioning, shown where to position themselves to cut off passing channels, certainly something some of our players could do with. When he arrived on the South coast he showed the Southampton players that a half a metre step forward, or metre step forward could cut off two passing channels, diagonally left and diagonally right, very important when you are trying to force the opponent into the worst passing option.

As I discussed in a previous article with a Sports Psychologists 48 point checklist, Pochettino also shows players how to position their body to dictate to the opposition, feet positioning have an impact here as well.

On the training ground he has Southampton playing 11 vs 11 every Wednesday frequently against the Development Squad. His staff on the sidelines organise patterns of play so everyone can practice their role within the various drills he likes to use, such as the aforementioned scenarios from goal kicks.

Beginning Attacks

He uses a standard set up from his own keepers goal kicks. The two centre-backs stand penalty box apart, the two full-backs hug the touchline as near to halfway as possible allowing one of the two defensive midfielders free to drop and collect the ball if it's not played to a centre-back.

From a goal kick his strategy is to get the ball to the full-backs as soon as possible. This takes any of the opposition forwards out of the game and any midfielders high up the pitch pressing as well. If no short ball is available then a long ball to a target man for a 1 vs 1 challenge is employed but retaining possession is the first and foremost option.

Pochettino like his sides to switch play often and to stretch opposition defences. Passing along the floor is a key element as it reduces the possibility of error (it's easier to pass along the floor than to chip a ball). Vision is an essential quality, he asks his players to constantly look round to see where teammates are and mentally register passing and or attacking opportunities.

Kyle Walker and our left-sided full-back will be expected to attack, making the opposition winger defend so those of you who still see fall-backs as defenders can expect to see more of what we had under AVB with them. The lone forward has to make off the ball runs to create gaps between the lines allowing a number 10 to operate.

System Problems

Players need to be intelligent footballers mentally ahead of the game, playing a reactive game puts the team in trouble and disturbs the system. When his teams understand and start to effectively implement his tactics then his teams can suffocate other passing teams high up the pitch, however teams who employ route one football like West Ham cause greater problems.

If long balls are employed the team falls back into a rigid defensive structure rather than adopt a pressure defence.

The system allows space out wide, it actively pushes team out there with space to exploit so the wide midfielders have a lot of work. Their designated area of responsibility is usually the edge of the penalty box to the touchline the complete length of the field. Pochettino asks his wide midfielders to move centrally to out-number opponents to be able to employ his pressing game.

With advanced full-backs this leave acres of space in behind wide for long diagonal balls. We all know our current weakness is wide left so plenty of work will be needed to counteract this if we are to enjoy sustained success.

The Southampton players have relatively few muscle injury problems which is something our side suffer from a lot. Pochettino does work on glueteal muscles before every training session, players have a prevention program they follow. If he can reduce the number of muscle injuries we get, Lennon seems to have three a season, Dembele is another, then our squad won't be so stretched all the time.

With this new Spurs squad there is an unknown factor, how they are going to handle expectation and pressure. This season has been a disaster but with a season in this country now there can be no excuses next season.

Having researched Pochettino's methods I would expect to see less injuries if he were appointed which would allow us to keep our talented players on the pitch more often. Injuries have constantly been a problem for us so perhaps our current prevention programs are not good enough.

He may not have the profile of Frank de Boer or the winning track record of Rafa Benitez but he could turn out to be our own Brendan Rogers.



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