Six key areas Pochettino must address at Tottenham next season
So, Tottenham Hotspur have another new manager. Following the sackings of Harry Redknapp, Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood, Daniel Levy now sees Mauricio Pochettino as the man who he believes can fulfill his lofty ambitions.
Levy has shown he is a man not best known for his patience, so 42-year-old Pochettino will be under pressure right from the off at White Hart Lane.
The Argentine has an excellent squad at his disposal but there are still numerous areas he may look to address if he wishes to get off to a good start, possibly including the ones listed here:
1. Coaxing the best out of Adebayor
It looked as though Emmanuel Adebayor’s days at White Hart Lane were numbered at one stage last season. Even with new signing Roberto Soldado struggling to settle, the Togo striker was deemed surplus to requirements under Andre Villas-Boas and played just 45 minutes under the Portuguese. Villas-Boas’ replacement Tim Sherwood recalled the front man immediately though and having Adebayor playing well and scoring goals was like having a new signing on board.
The former Arsenal man’s attitude has often been called into question and he still has too many games where he looks disinterested, but when in the mood and on form, Adebayor is a handful for any defender and his record of 14 goals in 25 games last season is testament to that.
When it comes to getting the best out of the frontman, good man-management skills are a must. The 30-year-old flourished in his first season at White Hart Lane under Harry Redknapp before falling out with Villas-Boas. Pochettino may yet decide he prefers Soldado or Harry Kane, and may also have his own transfer targets in mind. If the Argentine can get the best out of Ade on a consistent basis though, he will find that there aren’t too may strikers in the league more effective than Togolese striker.
2. Belief in Lamela
Even though Gareth Bale had departed for Real Madrid, Spurs fans still had reason to be excited last summer following the arrival of the exciting young forward Erik Lamela. That initial excitement soon turned into frustration though as the young Argentine became the forgotten man at White Hart Lane. Only regular observers of Serie A and the Argentine Primera A will know just how good a player Lamela really is as he barely featured in his first season in England.
Thought to be a Franco Baldini signing forced on Villas-Boas, Lamela has struggled with home sickness and injury ever since he arrived in London for a club record £30 million. Lamela performed superbly for Roma the previous season and big things were expected of the 21-year-old Argentine international, but even when fit, both Villas-Boas and Sherwood were not keen on utilising him. Lamela has been linked with a move away from the club, but chairman Daniel Levy would have to take a massive loss on his investment should he wish to sell.
It is not really fair to judge Lamela on such little playing time and the youngster will likely welcome the managerial appointment of his compatriot. Pochettino has shown at Southampton that he can work wonders with promising young players and has not hesitated in putting his trust in them on a regular basis. Lamela at Roma was at his best when cutting in from the right onto his favoured left foot, and displayed his goalscoring capabilities by registering fifteen Serie A goals in 2012-2013.
Aaron Lennon and Andros Townsend endured equally frustrating seasons so a place on the right of the forward line is up for grabs. If Pocchetino shows some faith and patience towards him and if the player can stay injury-free, Spurs supporters may finally see the Lamela who had shown such promise in Rome.
3. Attitude improvement
One of the reasons Tottenham weren’t able to put up a serious fight for Champions League qualification last term was their results against the the teams they have aspirations of competing with.
Against last season’s eventual top four, Spurs managed just 1 point out of a possible 24 and conceded 27 goals in the process. The defending on show in these games was obviously appalling but the thing that will have wrankled the supporters most was the attitude of some of the players. One thing football supporters refuse to accept is lack of work rate, and too often last season it appeared as though some of the Spurs players had simply given in too easily.
Perhaps the best example of this was Spurs’ defeat to West Ham last month. With a free-kick fired towards them in the wall, Adebayor and Paulinho proceeded to rather pathetically jump out of the way of the strike to allow a Hammers goal.
Down the years Spurs have had a reputation of being a soft touch – a reputation they had seemed to have gone some way to being shifted in recent years. It was evidently back last season though as Sherwood pointed out after the 4-0 defeat to Chelsea in which he failed to hide his anger and contempt after the game. This will be one of the most important areas for Pochettino to tackle.
There is no doubting the ability of the majority of players in the squad, but if some of them continue to show these same fragilities then his job will have been made a whole lot harder.
4. Europa League ambitions
This will be the third season in a row that Tottenham will be playing Thursday nights in the Europa League and for some Spurs fans that is not something to get particularly excited about. There is a feeling amongst some supporters that the competition is an unwanted distraction from the main goal of Champions League qualification. Trophies have been hard to come by for Spurs over the last thirty years though so Pochettino will surely see this as a possibility of ending a trophy drought that stretches back to 2008.
It is true that all the extra matches can take their toll on players in a long season but Pochettino should have a large enough squad to be able to rotate some players and still have enough quality to pick up results. Tottenham are generally one of the better sides in the group stage so these games should provide an opportunity for the Argentine to rest a few first-team regulars and give an opportunity to those not getting as much game time as they would like.
The winner of this season’s competition is also rewarded with a Champions League spot for the following season so there is an extra incentive there for Spurs given how difficult it may prove to break into the top four of the league again.
5. Addressing the problems at full-back
Numerous defensive errors hindered Spurs last year and a big reason for that was the form of the full-backs. Kyle Walker was named PFA Young Player of the Year two years ago but has struggled to produce the same form ever since. The England right-back missed the last few weeks of the season due to a persistent pelvic injury but when he was fit, Walker looked a little suspect in his defensive duties. The 24-year-old has shown enough in his short career so far to suggest he is worth persevering with, but Pochettino will hope be hoping he can get back to his best quickly.
At left-back things have been even more difficult for Spurs. With Benoit Assou Ekotto being allowed to join QPR on loan, the club’s only recognised player in that position was Danny Rose. Rose is only 23 and may go on to prove that he is a player who can make that position his own at White Hart Lane but or the moment he just seems to suffer from inconsistency. He has games where he looks excellent and others where he seems to be a bit of a liability.
Klye Naughton has been the other option on that side but he is predominantly a right-back. Naughton has been singled out for criticsm from some supporters but to be fair he has sometimes performed quite impressively under the circumstances. At times Jan Vertonghen has also been deployed on the left but has made no secret of his unhappiness at being forced to do so. Centre-back Vertonghen is arguably the club’s best defender so it does seem a little wasteful to play the Belgian out of his favoured position.
So a new signing at left-back appears to be the main area where Pocchetino may wish to strengthen and he has been linked with a swoop for Luke Shaw at his old club Southampton. Shaw is attracting interest from Manchester United and Chelsea though and the £30 million transfer fee for his services is realistically out of Spurs price range. Another being mentioned as a possible target is Chelsea’s Ryan Bertrand who has been deemed surplus to requirements at Stamford Bridge. It still remains to be seen wheter will Assou-Ekotto will return to play a part or not.
6. Building around Eriksen
Looking back over the course of last season it could be argued that perhaps only Hugo Lloris and Christian Eriksen played anywhere near to the best of their capabilities. Eriksen arrived as one of seven summer signings and after a slow start developed into the creative hub of the side. Spurs had plenty of possession last season but often struggled to know what to do with it and clear-cut scoring opportunities were proving hard to come by.
With Eriksen on form though, Spurs look a different side. When defences are proving difficult to break down, an extra bit of guile and spontaneity can be required to make the breakthrough, and the young Dane can spot passes few others in a Tottenham shirt can. Eriksen is also a dead-ball specialist and his free kicks and corners provide a huge goal threat.
He may still only be 22, but Eriksen has shown enough already to suggest he is a player that Pochettino might be looking to build his team around.
So the new man in the hot seat certainly has plenty to deal with in his early days at White Hart Lane but there are also many positives as he approaches an exciting new challenge in his career.
Pochettino has been handed a five year contract and how he handles the early months of his reign may go some way to determining how many of those five years he goes on to complete.
What do you think, Spurs fans? What needs to happen next season under Pochettino at White Hart Lane?