Thursday 18 July 2019

Pochettino begins to make amends for top-six turmoil

Mauricio Pochettino celebrates after Tottenham win at Old Trafford. Photo: REUTERS/Andrew Yates
Mauricio Pochettino celebrates after Tottenham win at Old Trafford. Photo: REUTERS/Andrew Yates

James Ducker

It was back in February, shortly before a trip to Anfield, when Mauricio Pochettino admitted Tottenham Hotspur's dismal record away from home against their biggest rivals was a fundamental flaw in their make-up.

"That is why maybe we miss a title, why we don't win the Premier League," he said.

Pressure comes in many different forms and so, while the spotlight centred on Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford last night in a way it was never going to on Pochettino, that did not mean a free pass for the Spurs head coach, an evening when all the attention would be focused elsewhere.

In its own way, this was a must-win for Pochettino. Sure, not of the kind it was for Mourinho, but certainly in terms of helping Tottenham to throw down a marker of sorts, to show early on that they are not the soft touches on the road their record against the big boys suggests, it was a game to which the North London club could attach real importance.

Pochettino's record at Old Trafford going into this was dire - four games, four defeats, no goals scored - and in keeping with a generally lousy set of results away to the Premier League's established top six, with just two wins from 20.

Losing to a United side who had downed tools against Brighton, and to a rival manager whose troubles appear to be mounting by the week, would have done little to alter attitudes towards Tottenham.

In fact, it might only have entrenched opinions, not to mention that flaky tag they are routinely saddled with. In that sense, this felt like a leap in the right direction.

Tottenham had been here before, facing a United side down in the dumps and still come away second best, but they merely bided their time before going in for the kill - and what a killing it was, a game that showcased all of their very best strengths at the same time as exposing United's greatest shortcomings.

There were some big calls here from Pochettino and his team was full of players who few back in May would have staked money on still being at the club.

Danny Rose got his first airing of the campaign at left back and Mousa Dembele started in midfield. But if both of those inclusions were something of a surprise, there was nothing unexpected about Toby Alderweireld's inclusion.

Had a suitable offer come in for Alderweireld this summer, Spurs would have cashed in and Pochettino was well aware how the Belgium centre-half had been courted by Mourinho, only for United to veto a move in the belief that £50 million for a player who turns 30 next year represented a short-term fix.

It may well have done but that short-term fix looked decidedly good here.

Mourinho seemed to be making another very clear point to his boss, Ed Woodward, about his displeasure over the club's failure to bring in that centre-half he craved by fielding midfielder Ander Herrera in a makeshift back three.

But Alderweireld's imposing showing, and dismal performances from Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and substitute Victor Lindelof, made that point all by themselves.

Watching this, it is a wonder Spurs were prepared to sell Alderweireld at all.

Pochettino and Mourinho have shared some common ground this summer in the sense that neither got what they wanted in the transfer market. In Pochettino's case, there was not a single signing. But inadvertently retaining the likes of Alderweireld could be an unexpected fillip and the Argentinian need only recognise what Mourinho would have given to have a centre half with his experience, aggressive nous and positional sense to realise the value the Belgian retains.

It really was like a lesson in how and how not to defend.

While Alderweireld swept up with the minimum of fuss, always in the right position, combative in the duels and quick thinking when the moment demanded it, United's defenders were, to a man, a sorry bunch.

From Jones losing Harry Kane at a corner from which the England striker scored, to Lucas Moura dumping Smalling on his backside to claim Spurs' third goal, it was like all of Mourinho's complaints about what he lacked defensively had combined to rob his defenders of what little self confidence they had left.

That was embodied midway through the second half when Lindelof played a woeful underhit pass that almost allowed Dele Alli to nip in to score, with David de Gea sparing the Swede's blushes.

Pochettino will have learned plenty about his players here. Mourinho will merely have had his long-standing misgivings about some of his reinforced. (© The Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

The Throw-In: Kerry back to their best, Connolly’s return and Cork’s baffling inconsistency

In association with Bord Gáis Energy

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport