Tottenham and Liverpool both reap the rewards of Mauricio Pochettino's restorative powers
Mauricio Pochettino's imprint will be on both clubs at Wembley on Sunday afternoon.
The Spurs manager is often cited as the greatest influence on Liverpool's Adam Lallana, who he managed at Southampton, but he was also pivotal in reviving the career of Philippe Coutinho. Pochettino succeeded in luring the Brazilian to Barcelona.
In 2012, Coutinho moved to the city’s second club, Espanyol, on loan. Pochettino was the coach. The Brazilian’s Inter Milan career had stalled in Italy, whose manager at the time – Claudio Ranieri – could not find a place for him. Coutinho would later thank Pochettino for restoring his confidence.
In 16 La Liga games, Coutinho scored five goals. Pochettino evidently relit the fires in Coutinho’s belly as he also notched up a sending off against Osasuna.
When Pochettino moved to St Mary’s in 2013 he tried to re-sign Coutinho, only for Liverpool to step in after the midfielder had returned to the San Siro.
The Spurs coach never hid his admiration.
"As with most Brazilians, Philippe has a special magic in his feet," Pochettino said at that time.
"Aside from the magic that he has, he also has an amazing work rate and that makes us doubt whether he fits the mould of a typical Brazilian player or a European one because his work ethic is outstanding.
“I do think Coutinho has that same quality that Ronaldinho and Messi have, but he has much to prove yet.”
It is no surprise, then, Sunday’s meeting between Liverpool and Spurs at Wembley resembles a mutual appreciation society.
Stylistically the managers are similar. Strategically so are the boardrooms, Liverpool and Tottenham hoping a combination of prudent investment and player development will overcome the financial powers of Manchester and Chelsea.
A couple of Jurgen Klopp's players could slot comfortably into Pochettino’s system. Lallana (currently injured) would be a Spurs player if Liverpool not moved early, while Christian Erikssen, Dele Alli, Ben Davies and Erik Lamela were the subject of Liverpool interest before Spurs pounced.
When the players swap jerseys at full-time, plenty might consider what might have been.
Klopp is an admirer of Tottenham’s patience and continuity. That is no surprise. He is evolving Liverpool along similar lines.
“They know it's a generation that can win titles for Tottenham,” said Klopp. “So I think they are relaxed. I don't think the manager has to look at other clubs and think 'we have to buy, we have to buy.' “If there would have been a player they were convinced was better than they have then I am sure they would have done it. “But it is very difficult to find players better than the ones they already have.”
The German’s first Premier League game after taking over from Brendan Rodgers in 2015 was at White Hart Lane, a 0-0 draw. Seven of the Spurs line-up that afternoon should start at Wembley today. It would be more but for injuries to Danny Rose and Lamela. Three of the Spurs substitutes– Davies, Kieran Trippier and Harry Winks – are now regulars.
In contrast, ten of Klopp’s 18 man squad two years ago have since left, inclusive of a couple of loanees.
“There has been few changes in their team. Walker has gone to City and Rose is injured. Pretty much the rest is the same,” said Klopp. “They are title contenders. They were last year. They were two years ago. Why shouldn't they be this year? “So they have great quality. They don't have to make many changes because they are at the best age.
“Spurs have Kane, Alli and Eriksson but with just three players you can do nothing. Absolutely nothing, He has Wanyama, Dembele in midfield and in the world of centre-halves it is quite difficult to find better than Vertonghen and Alderweireld and yet the still took the boy from Ajax (Sanchez). “They brought in Davies when Rose was injured. They had Trippier for the right when Walker walked away. “Eriksson is for sure one of the best Premier League players and who is behind? Sisssoko – we know his quality – and Son doesn't play all the time but always seems to decide games when he does. “Dier can play centre-half or No 6. My God.”
Despite the compliments, Spurs’ major problem is similar to Liverpool. How do you catch Manchester City?
“If you ask, 'Is the race already done?' City are so strong, flying along at the top of the table. Maybe this race is decided already. I haven't a clue, but there is still a lot to get in this league and to play for,” said Klopp.
“It is a decisive moment so far but not for the rest of the season. Nine points is unbelievable. “They play twice against Man Utd, twice against Tottenham, once more against Chelsea. There are still a lot of games to play in this league and nobody will go through this like a warm knife through butter.”