January 3, 2015

Poch’s Progress

At just past the halfway point in the league season, it feels like a good time to pause for breath and consider the progress that we have made to date under Mauricio Pochettino, our latest Head Coach.

Expectations were relatively low at the start of the season. Whilst there are always fans and pundits who *expect* a top four finish having made a change (the “why bother changing it if we’re not going to push on?” argument), the majority were happy to accept a lesser league position in another season of transition in order to establish a foundation and to develop the Bielsa-inspired playing philosophy that brought excitement to Southampton. I was certainly in this camp and, more than anything, I wanted to enjoy going to White Hart Lane again – to feel like our club and fans were unified and moving forward with a sense of togetherness.

It could be said, so far, that signs of the footballing philosophy have been less obvious than we might have expected, but that this has not really been detrimental to results. We are currently three points better off than we were last season when looking at the equivalent league results as well as being through to the semi-final of the League Cup and the knock-out phase of the Europa League.

After some fortunate results over the Christmas period, and some less-than-convincing performances, Thursday’s astonishing victory against Chelsea felt like a turning point. The high press was implemented effectively, with Harry Kane once again leading from the front. The team played as a cohesive unit and, putting aside some defensive lapses, there was plenty to be positive about.

Pochettino still has much work to do but he has been helped by shaping a more definite ‘first team’. Over the past six to eight weeks it has become clear which players he values and which he does not. These sorts of decisions were presumably made at this point with the January transfer window in mind, rather than the correlation just being a fortunate coincidence. The sidelining of certain players now gives them an opportunity to find a new club and for Pochettino to streamline the squad in order to bring in a few players of his own – players who he can trust.

Danny Rose’s comments in today’s Mirror seem to be hinting towards those players that are not working so hard being left out:

“Let’s just say if you don’t work hard under the manager, you’re not playing! You better make sure you give 100 per cent each day in training, which is very hard and intense.

But I really enjoy it. As the long as the manager sees you are willing to work hard and want to fight hard for your team-mates then you will go far with him.”

Pochettino is relentless in his pursuit of a fit, hard-working squad. After the Manchester United match he was asked: “what now? Rest, rest, rest?” He responded chirpily: “no, train, train, train”. Our players (specifically Kane, Christian Eriksen and Ryan Mason) have recently featured in the ‘most distance covered’ stats that the Premier League sometimes produce:

MW13

MW16

Eriksen initially struggled under the new coach, and his creative influence was missing at the beginning of the season. After a short bedding-in period, though, it has well and truly returned. But alongside that he has been utterly transformed. Where he was previously seen as a ‘luxury player’, he is now an absolute workhorse who pressurises defenders and creates opportunities for turnovers. Indeed, prior to the Chelsea match, Eriksen’s distance covered was the fourth highest in the Premier League at 210.1km. Staggering.

It is notable that in the last six matches, Kyle Naughton, Aaron Lennon, Younes Kaboul, Étienne Capoue, Paulinho and Emmanuel Adebayor have played just 40 minutes between them. One must assume that all would be available for transfer if a suitable offer were to come in. Roberto Soldado has played 110 of the 540 possible minutes in that time and is another that is likely to be available, although it is difficult to see who would pay the kind of fee that Daniel Levy would demand.

Mousa Dembélé (250 minutes) seems to have come back into favour and might be granted a stay of execution, at least until the summer. On the other hand, whilst Vlad Chiricheș (180 minutes) has performed pretty admirably at right-back, he seems set to join Roma on loan with a view to a permanent move.

Interestingly, Eric Dier has not featured at all across this six game period either, but there’s little chance of him moving on permanently – he would provide useful cover were the likes of Chiricheș or Kaboul to leave. Alternatively, there would be no shortage of takers were he to be made available for loan.

The final player regularly linked with a move away is Andros Townsend. Townsend has become a bit of an enigma and divides opinion in the stands. His precision penalty on the stroke of half-time against Chelsea was met with a celebration largely of relief from the player – he will certainly want to use that moment as a springboard, and I think he has shown enough to warrant being used for the rest of the season, at least as a rotation option.

Townsend is an imperfect player but he is certainly not beyond moulding. After seeing the work Pochettino has done to improve (or at least bring the best from) Nacer Chadli and Eriksen, I am hopeful that he can help Townsend to realise his potential – the very definition of a coach. Besides this, we have so few players capable of committing defenders that Townsend offers something a little different from the norm.

Should we be able to create some space in the squad, we might see a couple of players come in. Hector Moreno was a player that I mentioned in September – having played under Pochettino at Espanyol, Moreno is a player that our coach knows, likes and can rely upon. The partnership of Jan Vertonghen and Federico Fazio has become a reliable one (played 15, won 11, drawn 3, lost 1), and if one of them were to be injured, the team would certainly suffer. Moreno would provide excellent cover, and signing him in January would give him time to settle in before potentially becoming first choice next season.

Various journalists (including the well-connected Matt Spiro) are pointing towards Adrien Rabiot, the 19-year old midfielder from Paris Saint-Germain, signing on a six-month loan. Rabiot has been linked for a number of weeks, and makes sense as a stop-gap if Pochettino’s first choice target (who is, presumably, still Morgan Schneiderlin) cannot be obtained at this point.

Rabiot has played just 215 minutes in Ligue 1 this season, but last season he managed 1112 minutes (11 starts). With Nabil Bentaleb heading off to the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations with Algeria in a week or so, Rabiot would provide useful cover. A quick comparison with Bentaleb (Rabiot of last season vs Bentaleb of this) seems to indicate why this would be a smart short-term move, with Rabiot averaging more key passes per 90 minutes, taking on more shots, but also making more tackles. His upright, head-up style would hopefully ensure that we don’t lose the sense of calm that Bentaleb gives us in a midfield area that in the Premier League can be very chaotic.

An alternative to Rabiot would be to promote from within and use Miloš Veljković, whose loan at Middlesbrough is due to end around the time that Bentaleb leaves. Their Head Coach, Aitor Karanka, was full of praise after his 30-minute cameo against Ipswich:

“I am very pleased with Milos. I felt he was the best player on the pitch in the last game. He went onto the pitch at a difficult time and he showed everyone he is a mature player, even though he is only 19 years old.”

Veljković got some game time in pre-season and looked like he could step up, but the counter-argument is that it might benefit him to stay on loan and play regularly across the rest of the season, rather than making a handful of appearances for us during January.

Alongside Rabiot, Spurs might want to sign another forward, with Soldado and Adebayor still struggling in different ways and for very different reasons. Danny Ings might represent a budget option – mostly because his contract is up in the summer – and at 22-years old (and being English) he seems to suit the Levy buying policy of old. It will, I suppose, depend on how Ings’ numbers are portrayed in Paul Mitchell’s ‘black box’, but his high-energy, honest style would suit the current framework and would mean that the burden on Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen is reduced a little to negate the possibility of burn-out. Naturally Burnley would be reluctant to sell as they will be reliant on Ings’ goals for Premier League survival, but an offer of around £10 million might convince them to cash in.

January will also see the arrival of DeAndre Yedlin. Having only seen Yedlin at the World Cup, in the recent USA friendly against Colombia and once in the MLS, I am not best-placed to provide a verdict on whether Yedlin will be a hit. However, from the little I have seen I would suggest that most of his initial game-time will be in the Under-21s. That said, his arrival might mean that Pochettino is happier to sell Lennon and/or Naughton, since Yedlin could provide cover in both positions.

In closing, it would be remiss of me to not mention Pochettino’s bravery in picking young players. Tim Sherwood has been receiving plaudits over the past week – after all, it was he who entrusted Bentaleb and Kane last season – and it is fair to say that Sherwood offered our youngsters belief and confidence. But Pochettino was not afraid to go with youth at Southampton, and it’s unlikely that the platform that Sherwood provided had a significant impact on his selection criteria, albeit it helped iron out some of the youngsters’ creases. Pochettino’s use of Mason, and his interest in selecting development squad players on the bench shows to me that he would have done things his way regardless. The average age of our team against Chelsea was just 24. This is fairly remarkable, and I would suspect that this is more likely to go down rather than up as Pochettino has a say in moulding and developing his own squad.

And let’s not forget that there are plenty more youngsters bubbling under the surface that might get a chance in the near future. Harry Winks has made his debut, Dominic Ball and Josh Onomah have made the bench, and Connor Ogilvie and Nathan Oduwa cannot be far behind. There is certainly potential for clearing out mostly-unused squad fodder, and promoting from within to replace them should Pochettino feel that youngsters are more likely to buy into his philosophy. It’s just a pity that we don’t have another young forward who could help to replace Adebayor and/or Soldado in the squad.

Pochettino’s start at Spurs has been solid but unspectacular. We have made progress in the league and cups without always playing well and there have been improvements in key players as the season has progressed – most notably Kane, Eriksen, Chadli, Fazio and Ben Davies (who has put in some really steady performances of late). The nature of this time of the football calendar means that within a month it is possible that we could be out of all of the cups and falling down the league – if that does happen, let’s not forget that this season is about building a philosophy, building a foundation, and building confidence in one of the best Academies in the country. But let’s hope that doesn’t happen and that we go on to win a cup – something to reward the hard work we’ve seen of late. Either way: so far, so good.

Happy New Year and COYS.

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  • Paul King says:

    Nice read Chris!

  • Mark Holman says:

    Windy, your articles are alway good, this is brilliant!

    Many thanks.

  • Mike Strong says:

    I was impressed by Veljkovic when he was used by Poch in a few friendlies at the start of the season. I also think that DeAndre Yedlin might have been signed as a potential winger due to his almost ridiculous turn of pace. Good article.

    • WindyCOYS says:

      Me too – thought Veljkovic did really well and was looking forward to him getting more chances.

      Yedlin could certainly be used as a winger to ease him in.

  • Alex says:

    Fantastic read!
    I would be happy for us just to sell players this month, then reinvest the money in the summer

    • WindyCOYS says:

      Thanks, Alex. The worry is that it would leave us a little short, especially if we beat Burnley on Monday and are still in four competitions. But there are some players that we could sell and not really miss – Lennon and Paulinho being two IMO.

  • Caspurs says:

    Would personally like to see Kaboul and Ade leave, with better replacements for both positions, funded by releasing other dead wood within the squad. we need a fast tricky striker to compliment Kane and make teams worry about us getting in behind their defence, some one like paolo Dybala would be good ?

  • Rv says:

    Good article . I agree with most but not all of what you’ve written. For me poch was dealt a bum deal with all of the average players that were bought last year. We all thought that paulinho,eriiksen , Soldado and lamela in particular would perform and win us games on their own, giving us a transitional season finish of a circa a 7 spot. They’ve clearly under performed ( bar eriiksen )and poch has done an incredible job to develop Kane , Bentelab and mason in particular . Fazio and eriiksen are proven players so you would expect them to prove their worth anyway . Poch is the man. Levy needs to back him now . Somehow we are in an amazing position to go to wembley , finish top 4
    And maybe , just maybe do really really well in Europe . Over to you levy .

  • Robert says:

    Great report and spot on, I don’t understand why we don’t play the high line high tempo game consistently! I also think Verts has played better lately seems to be enjoying himself again?

    • WindyCOYS says:

      Thanks Robert. Yeah, it’s odd although was that down to the likes of Capoue/Kaboul not coping? It’s been more prevalent since personnel has changed…

  • Halfmoon says:

    I think the best we’ve played was against Everton. I can’t figure out what he has against Lennon. He beats his man and gets a decent cross in plus defends very well.

    • WindyCOYS says:

      Yes, Everton, Chelsea and Arsenal the best for me (ignoring QPR as they were abysmal). Coincidence that Lamela didn’t play in two of those?

      I don’t agree on Lennon – he doesn’t often beat a man these days and his crossing is still pretty poor. Think it’s time he moves on.

  • Halfmoon says:

    And Soldado. He plays well behind Kane or in front of Kane. I think Erikson should play as one of the defensive midfielders as he can control the game better further back as Modric did. So a front four of Kane, Soldado, Chadli, Lennon with Erikson and Bentaleb further back.

    • WindyCOYS says:

      Personally I think Eriksen has been playing well as a 10 or drifting from the left. The only reason I’d move him back is if we were to revert to a 4-3-3 – he could play as one of three in midfield.

  • bill says:

    When you consider all the additions we ,ve bought post bale vaart and modric who need to settle into a known team poch has moved things on gradually keeping many options in rotation ……with his philosophy taking shape…what we need is a stable outlook on keeping this for the near future,two things …it was chelsea’s best eleven we beat and poch said we’ve only won three points….he,s after a trophy

    …he must have felt seriously proud of the players….remember if players leave new players can upset patterns formed we must be sensitive to undermining progress

    • WindyCOYS says:

      True, they can – but we’ve not players who have *supposedly* upset the applecart in the squad already.

      • bonse says:

        Why do we never list King when we say thing like post modric era?

        Very often his presence alone made the ten people around him much better players.

  • Mark Burrows says:

    What I think Poch has brought is a total un-Spurs thing of never knowing when we are being beaten. The mentality has been revolutional. He also has had that un-Spurs trait of luck too. However there has to be caution shown as Poch has made some very strange decisions. Also an not changing tactics of making us go wide when playing through the middle was not working v West Brom, Stoke, Newcastle, Palace. The system seem to present itself v Everton but he went back to what hadn’t worked. Fair play to him! He has turned me around as I was very worried in November.

  • DAVSPURS (@davspurs) says:

    Great article Chris( Windy) i remeber you mentioning a lad called Kane scoring 2 for England under 17 in final. After that i followed him and our youth and every name yoou mentioned Oduwa Onomah .They are all great prosbects along with new batch Azzaoui Edwards is he injured not traveled with our under 18 Chris . two players i hope don’t leave is Lennon and Townsend i believe both offer the speed to get away from pressing teams. All the best for NEW YEAR CHRIS AND YOUR FAMILY 2015

    • WindyCOYS says:

      And to you and yours Dav! Plenty more exciting talents too – Edwards has not travelled as they’ve only taken two of the really young players. Guess they want to protect him a bit and keep him out of the limelight. Also they have young midfielders in need of games – Ross, Owens and Hayford, for example.

  • Koko61 says:

    Good insightful read Windy.
    Let’s hope it is a happy new year for us.

  • Carlos Hotspur says:

    Excellent article Windy, as per usual.

    I would like to see us shift a few of the supposed ‘bad eggs’ – Ade and Kaboul, possibly Benny and I expect Naughton to go too – but I don’t want to see too much upheaval as I think it could negatively impact the great team spirit Poch seems to have fostered.

    Guys like Lennon, Dembele – keep them around for their experience of the club, and use them as impact subs.

    And the one person I absolutely would not be looking to move on is Soldado, who I still think offers a lot on the pitch and seems a very popular player with his teammates. Someone who, from his celebrations when others score and he’s not even involved, is a real team man – something that helps the team spirit previously mentioned.

    • WindyCOYS says:

      Thanks, Carlos! I would agree with all of those leaving.

      I have no problem with keeping Dembele and Lennon until the summer, but I would want them replaced then.

      Re: Soldado. No point selling unless we get a decent offer, but if we *do* get a decent offer we’d be crazy not to sell, surely?

  • teŕry says:

    Great article. Where do you see Lamela fitting in going forward?

    • WindyCOYS says:

      I see he and Townsend competing for the right wing berth, or even playing behind Soldado when Kane/Eriksen are rested as I suspect they might be on Monday. How about you?

  • Sweetsman says:

    What is your problem with Lamela? You seem less than effusive about his qualities, yet seem to give the players who have come through the ranks much more leeway. As far as I am concerned, they are all young players who need our support. I find Townsend incredibly frustrating, especially as he has come through the youth team and doesn’t have the disadvantage of coming to a new country. That said, he was very brave in taking the penalty and may just be starting to get with the programme. The same can be sad of Dembélé, who has the opposite problem to Townsend: he never shoots and is afraid of making mistakes; Townsend blithely repeats mistakes. However, if Pochettino can unlock Dembélé, he’ll have earnt his corn!

  • longtimespur says:

    Hi windy, I read you on here and other sites and always enjoy your articles. So thanks for your input on all, especially on the younger players.
    I feel we only need a new striker in this window and to get rid of those who MP no longer wants. All other positions can be covered by current squad players and those on loan at other clubs. If we haven’t a recall clause on Carroll, Milos, etc. then we didn’t think their loan deals through properly.
    Happy New Year to you and all THFC fans.

  • scorch says:

    Excellent “brain dump” Windy, cheers.
    Very exciting times to finally see something positive emerge from the chaos of the buying spree of 2013. I reckon we have too much deadwood including Ade and Naughton. As far as I can see, bringing on players from youth is energising for the fans and players alike. Do we really want to see many more average foreign imports? Well done for the highly considered and informed opinion.

  • JimmyG2 says:

    Happy new year.
    Your ususl judicious mixture of fact, opinion and speculation.

    I like Pochinetto. he’s gone about the sort out of the mess we have landed ourselves in over many managers and years in a methodical way.
    If he’s given the time he will take us forward.Not quite sure where yet.
    5 Academy Boys started against Chelsea and three were on the score-sheet.
    Love it.

  • bonse says:

    Great article Windy.

    Yedlin: From what I have seen he looks like for like competition for Walker to me, and as we have seen with Walker’s return our right side attack depends on a pacey attacking right back, it looks so much more balanced with Walker in the side than trying to wedge Lennon or Townsend in front of Dier/Naughton/Chirches and it is no surprise that Lamela on the right seems to be a little more comfortable, if still patchy.

    Ings: Personally I like him, he stood out in the few matches I have watched Burnley, if we bought him I would be happy that we had made a sensible considered signing.

    Now speaking of buying, where are we on number of foreigners in the squad, I thought we were up to the limit already and only had spaces for non-youth home based players, with Yedlin coming in I assume someone has to go unless he wasnt intended to be listed or some other rejigging of the list

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