Friday 20 April 2018

Spurs finish below Arsenal - but it's no shock, Mauricio Pochettino teams always fall away

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino Reuters / Dylan Martinez
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino Reuters / Dylan Martinez

Tom Ough

Mauricio Pocchettino had appeared the man who would shake Spurs free of their reputation of being chokers. Finishing above Arsenal for the first time in 21 years seemed a given as his energetic young Tottenham side pushed Leicester at the top of the table.

At last, the hex seemed broken. St Totteringham would not be visiting north London this year.

Then, slowly but surely, Spurs' results began to deteriorate, and a startling 5-1 defeat at the hands of relegated, 10-man Newcastle handed second place to Arsenal.

Yet Pocchettino's late-season slumps are nothing new. The same pattern has occurred in all but two of his eight seasons in management. Put it down to fatigue from a fast-pressing style inherited from Marcelo Bielsa, blame it on a failure of mental fortitude, but the unavoidable truth is this: Pochettino, once hailed as Tottenham's redeemer, is in fact even 'Spursier' than Spurs.

Espanyol: relegation escape and mid-table stability

Pocchettino's appointment catalysed Espanyol's transformation from relegation candidates to mid-table stalwarts, starting with a 2-1 win over Barcelona. But as his tenure continued, a pattern began to emerge of weaker finishes each season.

Southampton: a strong finish after a mid-season dip

Appointed in January 2013 to replace Nigel Adkins, Pocchetino only had one-and-a-half seasons with Southampton. In 2013/14, his Southampton side finished strongly, coming eighth in the league after a good end-of-season run. But this doesn't tell the full story: they had been third earlier in the season, before dipping, and it was only when the load on the players had been lessened by a fifth-round FA Cup exit that the upswing began.

Spurs: the same old story

A small dip at the end of last season went unnoticed,  but the decline this time around has been far more dramatic. Pocchettino's young squad, built around tyros like Harry Kane and Dele Alli at the expense of older rejects like Roberto Soldado, flopped at the last. Draw with West Brom and Chelsea were followed by a loss to Southampton, who, under new manager Ronald Koeman, finished the season in fine form. Still, all they had to do was avoid defeat at Newcastle. We all know what happened next.

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