Tottenham Hotspur and the introduction of tactical versatility by Mauricio Pochettino

A place in the Premier League top four at Christmas is a progressive return for a Tottenham Hotspur side that has impressed so far in 2015-16, but at times also displayed the frailties that have frustrated the club’s fans for many a year.

The general consensus at White Hart Lane is that Mauricio Pochettino is the man to take the club forward, with a young group of players buying into his thinking of how the game should be played.

Interestingly, the Argentine trainer has made more demands tactically of his team of late that can be deemed as a measure of the playing group’s continued progression and maturity.

The first thing that stands out is that there is a new-found fluidity in the Spurs attack, with those featuring in the final third starting to heed their manager’s instructions.

From his days at Southampton, Pochettino’s insistence that his side press high up the pitch has been a well-covered topic, and this has continued in North London.

However, the former Espanyol trainer also demands that those playing in the four most-advanced positions in his 4-2-3-1 system are able to interchange.

This has started to become apparent, with it most commonly being Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Érik Lamela that are given the nod to start.

Along with Mousa Dembélé, this quartet have featured in a number of different positions across the front four throughout the season, both as Pochettino dictates and on an ad-hoc basis.

A key example of this came in the 2-0 win away to Southampton, where the hosts dominated the early affairs only for a tactical switch from Pochettino to pay dividends.

The South American moved Eriksen from a position on the left to the number ten berth and switched Alli from a central midfield position to an unusual wide role.

The Dane went on to have a telling influence, before Alli drifted in from the left flank to net the decisive second goal in an impressive five-minute spell before half-time.

Mauricio PochettinoThis tactical versatility is also replicated by those on the fringes, with Son Heung-min, Clinton N’jie and Nacer Chadli all able to operate in different roles and flexible enough to play across the forward line.

As such, despite an over-reliance on Kane as the furthest man forward, Tottenham have other options to lead the line if so required.

I debated in September just how Spurs should ideally line-up in attack, but this flexibility is a real plus and means that Pochettino can tweak the position of his key offensive personnel dependant on the opposition.

A second tactical change came in Tottenham’s last game away to Watford, where Pochettino opted to play three central defenders in a bespoke 3-4-2-1 formation.

Eric Dier dropped from his usual midfield anchor role to play at the centre of a back three, while Tom Carroll was brought into the side in the boiler room to dictate play.

This decision was due to the hosts’ on-form strike pairing of captain Troy Deeney and the impressive Odion Ighalo, with Watford one of the few Premier League sides to field two out-and-out strikers.

Although Spurs rode their luck to some extent given the late nature of Son’s winning goal, it is fair to say the the systematic change played a key role in blunting the Hornets’ attacking weapons.

With the Londoners travelling to face Everton in their next fixture it will be interesting to see if the ploy is replicated, but with the Merseysiders fielding Romelu Lukaku as a lone striker it seems likely that Tottenham will revert to their usual 4-2-3-1.

Spurs’ performance against Watford lacked real quality and the White Hart Lane side could as easily have lost the game in the dying minutes as won it.

However, it is a testament to the newfound steadfastness in the side that the visitors walked away from Vicarage Road with all three points rather than just one or nothing.

Pochettino is clearly a bright football mind and his tactical nous is being reflected on the pitch by a group of willing and able players.

That said, Tottenham have a long way to go to achieve their ultimate goal of finishing in the top four, but there are signs that the young manager and his team are developing together.

By
I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo, goal.com, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City. I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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