How Pochettino transformed Tottenham in three months
Just two league games into the season, new Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino is on the verge of making history.
Tottenham have never been top of the Premier League later than September 9 - the point at which they topped the table in the 2002/03 campaign. They’ve had three other spells at the summit, in 1999, 2002 and 2005 – but all came towards the end of August.
Therefore, a three-goal victory this Sunday would mean Tottenham staying at the top until at least the next round of fixtures on September 13. It’s hardly likely to prompt a new chapter in the official club history, but it would represent a fine start for Pochettino.
The big caveat, of course, is the fact Spurs’ opponents this weekend are Liverpool, their first significant test.
Still, last week’s 4-0 destruction of QPR was an impressive performance, and suggested that Tottenham’s players already understand Pochettino’s demands. The side is playing high up the pitch, winning the ball quickly, and there’s a nice balance between possession and penetration. Already, the Argentine seems a fine appointment.
Three players summed up the transformation particularly well last weekend. They weren’t necessarily Spurs’ best trio, but they showed signs that they’d transformed their game from 2013/14 – which, in the space of two games, is highly impressive.
The most obvious candidate in this respect is Erik Lamela. His 2013/14 was completely unremarkable, and while he wasn’t exactly handed many opportunities to impress, he was probably the most obvious ‘flop’ from last summer, considering his transfer fee.
Previous Spurs appearances saw Lamela floating around on the periphery of the game, but against QPR he was constantly involved. Not only did he showcase his mazy dribbling in central positions, he also recovered the ball constantly in midfield, too, showing a commitment to the cause previously lacking. Under his fellow Argentine Pochettino, he seems much happier.
Elsewhere, Nacer Chadli was handed more opportunities last season, but he rarely stood out. It was difficult to work out what the Belgian’s best position was, or precisely what he excelled at. In truth, Chadli is basically a hard-working, disciplined and efficient ‘system player’ – he’s tactically disciplined and will do exactly what the manager demands. The problem last season, of course, was that the system wasn’t always clear.
Pochettino has evidently been more eloquent in explaining his demands, and Chadli played excellently as a wide forward, getting through his defensive work well and positioning himself intelligently in the final third. His passing was reliable, and he scored two goals.
The final example was Nabil Bentaleb, who was cautiously impressive for Spurs under Tim Sherwood, but often frustrating with his distribution, playing sideways passes.
That wasn’t in evidence against QPR, where the Algerian played significantly more forward balls than square passes, and helped Spurs attack the space beyond QPR’s back-line quickly.
The moment that captured the imagination was Spurs’ third goal. The 48-pass move that ended with Chadli’s cool finish incorporated all 11 players, and was a wonderful demonstration of passing football. However, perhaps it was most impressive alongside Spurs’ fourth goal, scored by Emmanuel Adebayor. That was a more direct strike, and showed that Spurs are capable of attacking in two entirely different ways.
Time will tell whether Spurs can sustain that type of football over the course of the entire season, but victory over Liverpool this weekend would mean Tottenham fans can start to get excited.