Southampton’s grand project is collapsing. Only a year ago, manager Mauricio Pochettino boldly predicted Champions League football on the south coast, as reported by Goal.com. Any such ambitions are now in full retreat as players and staff flee the sinking ship.
Even Pochettino accepted a lucrative offer to join Tottenham. Now it seems that he will be taking two of his former players with him to White Hart Lane.
Morgan Schneiderlin’s departure from Southampton is imminent. An official transfer request on Wednesday came shortly after a frustrated tweet from the Frenchman:
Schneiderlin is a classic No. 4. Think Pep Guardiola or Sergio Busquets. He is tall and strong; intelligent and poised.
In a purely functional role, he still managed to make a name for himself and earn a place in France’s World Cup squad. His development alongside Southampton's fall and rise is remarkable.
He provides the first pass out of defence and screens the back four. He reads the game well and is remarkably assured in one-on-one situations. He has become a fundamental part of Southampton’s team and crucial to Pochettino’s system.
If Spurs are to adopt Pochettino’s style, the acquisition of Schneiderlin makes sense.
Sandro was once the player that Schneiderlin is now, but fitness problems and worryingly poor judgement in the tackle suggest that it is time for Spurs to move on.
A fan favourite and once a truly excellent player, Sandro is no longer capable of the all-action displays that saw him captain Brazil in 2012. Schneiderlin, although only eight months younger than the Brazilian, is blossoming and is in position to take Sandro’s place.
It could be argued that Etienne Capoue, if he remains fit, is capable of playing the No. 4 role for Pochettino, but he remains an inferior player.
Capoue is solid where Schneiderlin is excellent. He was signed initially as Sandro’s understudy and would continue in that role. It could only be to Spurs’ benefit to have two such players in the squad.
Spurs will need to sell at least one player to make room for Schneiderlin, and Sandro is likely to be the one. Reported interest from Rafa Benitez’s Napoli, per Simon Jones in the Daily Mail, and the rebuilding Inter Milan, reported by Metro's Jamie Sanderson, will likely see the Brazilian move to Serie A.
If Schneiderlin joins Pochettino’s Tottenham, the Argentinian will be able to revert to his preferred three-man midfield. In each of the pre-season matches so far, Pochettino has opted for a dual pivot formation with Capoue generally being favoured alongside Ryan Mason.
Moving to a 4-3-3 means that Spurs are one forward short. Roberto Soldado has seemingly been approved as Spurs’ main striker, while it remains to be seen what Pochettino thinks of Emmanuel Adebayor. Erik Lamela, excellent in pre-season, will be nominally on the right flank, but Spurs lack an effective left-sided forward.
Enter Jay Rodriguez.
The former Burnley man is recovering from a ruptured ACL and won’t be available to return until October, according the BBC. With the inevitable caveat of a medical examination, Rodriguez should be Spurs’ next priority if they are to pursue Schneiderlin.
Rodriguez is experienced in Pochettino’s pressing game. A willing runner, Rodriguez also possesses shrewd vision.
As Spurs found out to their detriment in last season’s 3-2 win at White Hart Lane, when he pounced on Kyle Naughton’s hesitation to open the scoring, Rodriguez reads the game well and gambles on opportunities.
A more traditional forward than Lamela, Rodriguez’s presence in the attacking trio would be vital. His willingness to get into the box means that Soldado is not a lone threat. He could even replace the Spaniard in the starting line-up if needed.
Schneiderlin’s quick-release style suits Rodriguez. The Frenchman loves to move play on with a raking pass toward the corners, and Rodriguez is adept at making use of possession in those areas.
If Spurs do acquire Schneiderlin, they must take Rodriguez as part of the deal. He would be the final piece of Pochettino’s squad, balancing the left-footed Lamela as a right-footed attacker on Spurs’ left flank.
Schneiderlin’s presence would free up Paulinho to play his favoured midfield role and provide cover for the more lightweight Christian Eriksen or Tom Carroll.
The inevitable drawback of Rodriguez playing opposite Lamela is a lack of genuine width. Happily, Spurs possess two dependable full-backs in Kyle Walker and Ben Davies. Pochettino’s dependence on his full-backs has been evident in pre-season, and the pair will keep the pitch big when Lamela and Rodriguez drift inside.
One further benefit of this potential double-deal is that it demonstrates the faith that Spurs chairman Daniel Levy has in his new manager.
By contrast, Tim Sherwood was undermined from the beginning with his 18-month contract while Andre Villas-Boas was denied the money to pursue players like Hulk and James Rodriguez.
Should Spurs complete these deals, they will be in the best possible position to improve on their perplexing last season. Both Soldado and Lamela, Spurs’ record signings, will be helped by the arrival of a third attacker and an excellent defensive midfielder.