Pochettino demands more 'aggression' to ensure Spurs wake from their set-piece slumber
Mauricio Pochettino fears that Tottenham Hotspur's defensive struggles are because the team has lost their mental edge.
Spurs have lost three games in a row by a 2-1 scoreline, and have conceded preventable headed goals in every one. That has raised questions about their back line and what has happened to one of the best defences in the country.
Speaking at his press conference on Thursday afternoon, Pochettino opened up on his concerns, explaining that the failure was "not a tactical question", nor one of personnel, because he has continued to rotate his defenders. Instead, he said defending set-pieces was down to "something inside", that is, his defenders' refusal to concede. And the fact that that is lacking points to a deeper malaise in the team.
Pochettino has made a habit of challenging his players' mentality this season, and this was the latest example. He wants his defenders to rediscover that inner pride and conviction that no-one will beat them to a header in the box. Just like he had as a player, and like Spurs had under his management, until the start of the season.
"It's not a tactical question, because we can defend zonal or individual (man-to-man)," Pochettino said. "But there is another game, and that is to have the mentality that means that if you mark in your zone, then you are going to win.
"If I mark this guy then he is not going to touch the ball. That is about having something inside, being strong. When the ball is in the middle, between you and me, it's about who is strong, you or me? Anticipating the action, about who is stronger, who is going to win, that is the thing that's so difficult to manager. Not only for us, but for every coaching staff."
This comes down to individuals, but the problem is bigger than just a few of them. Because Pochettino has tinkered with his defence all season, rotating between two left-backs, two right-backs, and three centre-backs. He famously did not take Kieran Trippier and Toby Alderweireld to the Inter game. But he keeps getting the same bad results. His whole defence needs to toughen up in the box. "It's about characteristics and personalities," Pochettino said. "Look at Watford, some of the names (who played) and now they are out. Liverpool, the same. Inter, the same. With different types of player, different names, we suffered the same situation. That is the thing in set-pieces: the only way to be good is to be aggressive and to anticipate."
Pochettino explained that ultimately there is only so much his coaching team can do to improve this. But ultimately defending set-pieces is down to motivation as much as it is organisation. "Being strong, it's not a thing you can work on too much. You can work on your organisation, you can work on the line, higher or deeper. From a corner, you can use different positions. But in the end, it's up to them. You can't do too much from the outside. It's not a tactical organisation, only that [desire]."
Having been a centre-back himself, Pochettino said that defending set-pieces should be a matter of personal pride for defenders. "It's in your education, how you were taught or how brave you are," he said. "How you feel, like you say, it's an insult if someone beats you. If I am supposed to mark someone and he touches the ball then it's a dishonour for me. That's how you need to feel. If you don't feel that then it's difficult." (© Independent News Service)