Tottenham vs. Schalke: What Mauricio Pochettino Learned from Pre-Season Friendly
Tottenham Hotspur concluded their first pre-season campaign under Mauricio Pochettino with a 2-1 win over Schalke on Saturday.
Goals scored on both sides of half-time by Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado proved enough for the victory. Former Tottenham midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng scored Schalke's reply with just over 10 minutes left in the half.
Signing off pre-season with a win in his first game in charge at White Hart Lane will certainly have pleased Pochettino. The opportunity to run the rule over his team one final time before the start of the Premier League season next weekend will have been just as welcome.
Over the following few pages we take a look at what Pochettino will have learned from his side's performance and just how that might affect his thinking for the trip to West Ham United on opening day.
Undaunted Dier Suggests He Is Ready to Go
Tottenham would not have bought Eric Dier if they did not believe he would be a good player for them. Nonetheless, Pochettino will have been reassured by the centre-back looking comfortable on his White Hart Lane bow. He was certainly happy speaking to Tottenham's online output afterward:
Mauricio on Eric Dier: "Eric is still young but he has a lot of potential. He did well, we're very pleased." #COYS— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) August 9, 2014
Spurs were not severely troubled by Schalke's attack, but that was in part because Dier and his fellow defenders marshaled their area so well.
With his fellow central defender, Younes Kaboul, in charge aerially, the 20-year-old was presented a little extra leeway to bring the ball out from the back.
Early in the first half, Dier threaded a lovely pass into a gap for Lewis Holtby most will not have noticed. A little later, he rushed a similar ball on the run and lost possession. But within a minute, he timed a superb sliding tackle on the edge of his box to win the ball back.
He proved similarly dependable for the remainder.
With Vlad Chiriches and Michael Dawson out injured and Jan Vertonghen also absent (unexplained at the time of writing), Dier was required to make up the numbers.
Pochettino might decide he is not ready to start for Tottenham in the event of those three being available. But the signs here were this is not a player likely to be daunted by the opportunity.
Since Dier has already played fairly regularly for Sporting Lisbon, that is not too surprising. But it's pleasing all the same for Pochettino as he sizes up his options.
New Is Not Necessarily the Way to Go at Full-Back
Whether we should read anything into Pochettino's starting XI in Tottenham's last pre-season fixture is difficult to say. Given there were a number of players who only played 45 minutes each, it may just be a case of the manager wanting to look at particular combinations, with no big reason for the order they were deployed.
Still, it was intriguing to see Danny Rose selected at left-back ahead of new signing Ben Davies.
The Welshman's arrival and Rose's own inconsistent campaign in the position for Spurs last season led many to believe the latter would be second choice. But then he signed a new contract, and now after another good pre-season display, the pecking order in the position might not be as clear-cut as thought.
A good summer run-out does not necessarily mean much. But the zeal with which Rose embraced the demands put upon him was impressive.
Going forward, he served as a useful wide outlet for what was a fairly narrow Spurs attack in the first half. Rose provided a passing option for Holtby and Nabil Bentaleb in midfield. Then further forward, he combined very nicely with Aaron Lennon to circumvent the Schalke defence.
His efforts in the opposition half did not detract from his defensive work either. His tackles had bite, he was alert and he did not allow any player who ventured his way an easy time.
Davies played decently after replacing Rose in the second half. But he did not grab his chance in quite as arresting a manner.
The former Swansea City man may prove to be the right man for the job. Pochettino will make him work for it if Rose continues to play with the same commitment.
Also at full-back, Kyle Naughton played his best match of pre-season so far with Kyle Walker yet again absent.
Deciding His Best Midfield Has Not Gotten Any Easier with Bentaleb's Return
Without a relationship with Pochettino or one of his inner circle, you would have to be psychic to predict his midfield for next week's game with West Ham.
Etienne Capoue and Ryan Mason—two of the best performers of the summer so far for the Spurs—were both absent altogether from the matchday squad for Schalke. There was no sign of Paulinho either, while Mousa Dembele seems still to be carrying a knock.
Handed the chance to impress were Bentaleb and Holtby.
The German—playing against his former club—had been a fixture in the side this summer and again staked a claim to be a starter for the Spurs this season.
Not everything Holtby tried came off, because on a few occasions, his passing was sloppy. But he was mostly efficient and importantly was an aggressive presence in the best sense of the word.
His Schalke counterparts were not allowed to rest with him snapping at their heels, and on a couple of occasions, he stole the ball in mid-air. There were a few fouls, but his tenacity with and without possession helped to inject some vital urgency into the Spurs' play at times when they became a little too slow.
Besides Holtby, Bentaleb played a more restrained game, but a good one all the same.
The Algerian appears to be even more confident after his World Cup experience. It did not manifest in anything spectacular. But he was decisive in his work and seemed even more assured of himself in the company he was keeping than earlier in this year even.
Off the bench, Tom Carroll and Sandro were somewhat victims of the lack of time granted them (less than a half-hour each). The Brazilian played his typical defensive midfield game but looked a little rusty. Carroll passed well, like we know he can, but was the one to let Boateng go unmarked for his goal.
So perhaps Pochettino did not learn he has plenty of options to choose between in midfield. However, it was certainly reiterated to him. Deciding who to select next week and beyond will not be easy.
Lennon and Townsend Could Decide the Nature of the Spurs Attack
There were distinctly different Tottenham attacking performances in both halves of Saturday's game.
The first was more measured, narrower and livened by bursts of electric passing.
The second was more expansive and a little more predictable, but at times, it was marked by some moments of real individual quality.
While the change between players like Adebayor, Harry Kane, Erik Lamela and Roberto Soldado certainly influenced this, it was the use of Lennon and Andros Townsend that chiefly defined it.
Both were deployed on the left of the Spurs attack. Not on his natural side there, Lennon was asked to come inside off that flank and link with his team-mates in a trio with Christian Eriksen and Lamela essentially behind Adebayor.
He was involved in the move for Adebayor's goal here and also made a couple of darting runs inwards to get on balls played deep from midfield (but was adjudged offside on both occasions).
Townsend served as a more natural winger on the left as Spurs moved to a formation that looked like a 4-2-4 at times, or it was at least an extremely adventurous 4-4-2. He used his acceleration to get away from Schalke down this side multiple times. One of those time, he got to the goal line and beautifully cut it back for Soldado who should have scored.
As the game progressed, Townsend did begin to work his way into more central areas too. It was his long-distance shot tat Ralf Fahrmann failed to deal with and allowed Soldado to head home to put Spurs up, 2-nil.
Pochettino has seen plenty of Lennon and Townsend this summer now. The ample minutes for both has allowed him to sample two different variations to his attacking style.
How the Argentine plans to use them remains to be seen. He might even decide that left is not best.
But the evidence would suggest otherwise. Pochettino will surely be pleased at this stage to know he has the options to ensure Tottenham's attack will not be one-note.