Mauricio Pochettino's 10 Most Pressing Issues at Tottenham Hotspur
Mauricio Pochettino is now well into his first week working with his new Tottenham Hotspur players.
The job began for him after a break following his appointment. Bar preparation, there is only so much he would have been able to do before pre-season began.
Now Pochettino and his coaching staff are able to get out on the training field, they can get to dealing with what they view as the pressing issues at hand.
Over the following pages we look at 10 such issues that might be on the new boss' mind.
The majority are related to problem areas and points of discussion relating to last season, and how Pochettino might address them moving forward. Others are more directly to do with forthcoming competition.
Naturally, a degree of speculation is involved with Spurs having yet to play any matches under the Argentinian.
First up, Pochettino's own master plan...
Deciding How He Wants Tottenham to Play
The general assumption in predicting how Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham will play is that they will replicate his Southampton team.
"Southampton have been a pleasure to watch, playing with pace, adventure, authority and invention, so expect to see attractive football at White Hart Lane," wrote The Guardian's Jacob Steinberg in late May. In a detailed analysis of how Saints' style might work with Spurs, Squawka's Nick Harris concluded "the Lilywhites clearly have the players to fill Pochettino’s attacking system."
It is unlikely Pochettino will deviate too far from a formula that has fared well for him in England. Nonetheless, he must decide how suitable it is to the squad he has inherited, and where it might need tweaking.
Pochettino's mandate is to produce an altogether more pleasing brand of football to what has preceded him at Spurs. While his players will need to adapt to what their new boss wants here, he must also adjust his thinking to making the most of their respective talents.
It is an obvious issue, but taking all this in and deciding just how he wants Spurs to play—even if there is an element of versatility to this—is paramount.
Although Pochettino has to get on with resources already at Tottenham, he will have some room to maneuver in bringing in players of his own.
The caveat here is there must be some level of agreeable discourse with the club's hierarchy.
Technical director Franco Baldini is a major player in transfer policy. He will have his ideas of who Spurs should be targeting.
Chairman Daniel Levy's mercantilism has been beneficial to the club financially but has not always aided the team on the pitch.
Pochettino was evidently on the same page with his boss Nicola Cortese at Southampton. Their working relationship was so strong the latter's departure in January prompted speculation the Argentinian would depart with him immediately—here via The Independent's Jack Pitt-Brooke.
The setup at Spurs is different, as too are the circumstances within which Pochettino will be working with Baldini and Levy.
That he is the man the club wanted as manager is in his favour. But he will still have to be clever and tough in convincing two strong-minded men of what he wants in the transfer market.
Speculation has mounted in the last week about Michael Dawson's Tottenham future. The Hull Daily Mail was among those on Monday talking up a possible move to their own city's Premier League club. They also mooted interest from West Ham United.
Whether Dawson stays at Spurs or not, Pochettino will need to decide what he has in mind for the club's captaincy.
Dawson would continue to be a fine skipper if his manager decides he should retain his armband. The defender is going to lead regardless, though, and does not need the official title to graft, organise and cajole as he does.
Instead, Pochettino could use the captaincy to move his team in a slightly different direction.
It could be used as a tool to focus the talented but temperamental Jan Vertonghen in defence, or validate Hugo Lloris' status as arguably the team's most important part.
None of Spurs' youth products are sufficiently established to lead in the way Adam Lallana did for Pochettino at Southampton yet. But someone like Christian Eriksen—similarly integral to the side's attacking sensibilities—might be a player who could embody the vision of the team in the way Lallana did on the south coast.
Now is the time Pochettino will define what he wants his Tottenham team to be. Establishing the leadership at the heart of this, in whatever capacity it may be, is vital.
Figuring out His Preferred Centre-Back Pairing
You can argue the need for consistency in any position of a football team. There is a particular need in defence, however.
The varied creativity of an opposition side in any given week requires a near-faultless understanding among defenders. Particularly in central defence, where errant positioning and poor marking can prove especially costly.
Tottenham have notably struggled here when changing things up too much, when forced or otherwise. It was not a coincidence Spurs defended so poorly in heavy losses to Manchester City and Liverpool last November and December respectively.
The previous season's costly spell in spring came during a run of seven matches when then-manager Andre Villas-Boas fielded the same defence only twice. A year earlier there were similar issues as injuries forced Harry Redknapp into making frequent changes.
Oppositely, in the early months of that 2011-12 campaign Spurs benefited from being able to play Ledley King and Younes Kaboul together.
Last season their best run came when Dawson and Vlad Chiriches were the predominant partnership between October and the end of January (the Romanian was crucially dropped and injured in the earlier mentioned defeats).
Whoever Pochettino chooses from in central defence—be it Chiriches, Dawson, Zeki Fryers, Kaboul, Vertonghen or a new arrival—he must try to find a balanced and settled pairing. Injury or suspension will be unavoidable at some point, but the foundation of consistency will serve his team well in the long-run.
Rose for Left-Back?
Left-back is a position in need of addressing; Pochettino just needs to decide to what extent.
When fit, Danny Rose was first-choice there last season. His performances divided opinion, though, and a definitive upgrade might be preferred.
Should Pochettino put his faith in the retrained full-back improving, it might just be a case of figuring out his preferred back-up.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto returns from his loan spell with Queens Park Rangers. After a year in the Championship his time might be deemed to have passed.
Fryers performed decently at left-back in his occasional chances there last season. Since he is capable of playing at centre-back too, his versatility should see him kept around.
Even with one of these two being kept on to compete with Rose, extra depth might still be desired given how Spurs have too often had to rely on guys not wanting to play there—Vertonghen and the completely right-sided Kyle Naughton.
If Spurs decide to bring in a new first-choice left-back, Rose and probably Fryers would be good cover. Though the former especially might not be too keen on going back to deputising.
Cutting Numbers in Midfield
Tottenham have nine players with some first-team experience capable of playing in central midfield.
This is not the first time this number has been used, so please forgive it being rehashed again. The fact remains that it is at least a couple too many.
Options are certainly healthy for a squad. As noted on the previous page, a lack of proper left-backs has not been helpful.
Even if you regard Eriksen and Gylfi Sigurdsson as being more likely to be used elsewhere, Spurs still have seven central midfielders. That is at least one or two who are at most going to be bit-part players.
Pochettino will need to cut numbers here. Not just as it is an unnecessary burden on the wage bill, but because it will allow him to shape his midfield resources with better balance.
There is a logic in having two defensive midfielders in Etienne Capoue and Sandro. Competition and cover is good.
But between Nabil Bentaleb, Tom Carroll, Mousa Dembele, Lewis Holtby and Paulinho, Spurs have too many recognisable "all-rounders" to go with them.
Pochettino could wield the axe dramatically and look to bring in a midfielder of his own to complement those who remain. You could argue he has what he needs already, he just has to make room for them to breathe as footballers.
Figuring out What Works Best for Lamela
In the earlier mentioned piece for Squawka, Nick Harris suggested Erik Lamela could be a good bet to perform a similar function to that Jay Rodriguez did for Pochettino at Southampton.
As Harris noted, the wide-man role in the Spurs attack would suit Lamela. That is where the Argentinian excelled at Roma, prompting Tottenham to spend over £25 million on him.
Lamela never really got going last season. The challenge of adapting to English football made it difficult for Villas-Boas to select him regularly ahead of others who were performing better. Injury problems denied the attacker the chance to get any better in the new year.
Whether it is coming in off the flank, or perhaps in a central role further forward, Pochettino could do with figuring out what makes Lamela tick early on. The sooner he understands how he can be implemented in his team, the sooner the 22-year-old can get to work finding some form.
Who Will Lead the Spurs Attack?
The way the wind is blowing in football these days, it is something of a rarity to see top-flight teams play two up-front.
Tottenham did last season after Tim Sherwood's appointment. Firstly with Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado, latterly with Harry Kane replacing the Spaniard.
Pochettino's Southampton attack often featured two recognised forwards in conjunction with the creative attacking midfielder Lallana. While Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert often played together, the flexibility of the system meant it was not quite a traditional front two.
What Pochettino has in mind for the strikers he has found at Spurs will be particularly intriguing given their individual situations and how it relates to the way his team plays.
Adebayor had his issues with Villas-Boas, but he showed under Redknapp and Sherwood's management he can be a fruitful performer. With skill, strength and solid finishing, he has the attributes to play a lead role for Pochettino. He is more likely to respond given the first-choice tag than as a squad player.
Re-awakening the Soldado of his time at Getafe and Valencia will be a tempting challenge for the new boss too.
The Spaniard does not share the physically dominating presence of Adebayor. But so long as team-mates get close enough to link up with him, he hinted enough last time out at the intelligent build-up play and penalty-box nous that could make him lethal.
Kane is the dark horse to be Pochettino's main man in attack. The youngster netted three times late on in 2013-14, relishing his earned status as a central figure up top.
It would be a big call from his new head coach to hand the 20-year-old Kane the responsibility of leading the line for him, though. At his age a rotation role, or perhaps a less-demanding job out wide (where his ability to bring others into the game could fare him well) might be more suitable as he continues his development
The outside recruit option is also a possibility, of course.
Toughen Tottenham Up for the Big Tests to Come
Tottenham's failure to beat any of the eventual top four of Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal last season was bad enough. The frequently embarrassing nature of many of the defeats they suffered was unacceptable.
Without question, Pochettino will have to find a way to toughen Spurs up.
Confidence, courage, resilience—much of this will stem from his players believing in the way of playing he proposes to them.
It will take time for all of this to become a permanent part of their psyche (or as good as). Yet, with games against Liverpool (home) and Arsenal (away) in Spurs' first six fixtures, there is an urgency to find some sort of immediate solution.
The inferiority complex that came to plague Spurs the moment it went wrong against these clubs (save for perhaps Arsenal, for whom motivation is rarely absent) cannot be allowed to fester any further.
What Pochettino and his staff can do to toughen up a squad whose collective ego has been badly bruised, only they know. But they must do something.
Beat West Ham
It is the most obvious of all the pressing issues listed here.
Tottenham travel to Upton Park on the opening weekend of the season. Of course they will want to win against their London rivals and start the season with three points.
There is more to it too.
West Ham beat them three times last season, twice in the Premier League and once in the Capital One Cup.
The league defeats were certainly deserved on Spurs' part. While the losses to their top four rivals were more hurtful to their Champions League aspirations, losing to an inferior but better-prepared Hammers side damaged something deeper.
Pochettino has an immediate opportunity to rectify a sense of pride in his team, and from the club's fans in them. Beat West Ham first, and Spurs will then start as they mean to go on and recapture a sense of the notion they can challenge up the top end of the table too.
That belief would be hurt by another defeat to a club that—while wanting to progress in their own right—still finished seven places lower than Spurs in 2013-14.
Tottenham's season will not be defined by their result at Upton Park in mid-August. But a positive one would be beneficial to say the least.
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