Tactical switch pays off

Pochettino's emphasis on a back three brings more options in attack as Spurs chase victory

LONDON • A manager does not tinker lightly with a defence that is the most secure in the Premier League, especially in a high-profile north London derby of intensity and top-of-the-table significance.

But, for Mauricio Pochettino, changes at the back were worth risking in the hope of solving problems at the other end.

Naturally, everyone alighted on the unexpected switch to a back three but, as Pochettino confirmed, the real purpose of Tottenham Hotspur's new system during their 1-1 draw with Arsenal on Sunday was the chance to play two up front.

You did not have to look too hard at the Premier League table to understand why. Spurs are the only unbeaten side in the division, which is no small feat.

Yet, they are also without a victory in seven matches and the numbers also reveal that they have been considerably outscored by the four teams above them in the domestic table.

THEIR OWN UNIQUE APPROACH

We don't play like Chelsea. We play with two strikers and one behind. The teams can play different or similar systems, but nobody owns a system like the one we played today.

MAURICIO POCHETTINO, Tottenham manager, on why tactical flexibility is critical to his team's prospects of success.

Something has to be done to improve that record if Spurs are to finish in the Champions League positions, never mind challenge for top honours.

Since that superb victory over Manchester City, with Son Heung Min scoring twice as a lone striker, they have had a late scrambled equaliser away with West Bromwich Albion followed by just two goals in five matches, both from the penalty spot by Vincent Janssen.

So, even with Harry Kane returning for the first time in almost two months, Pochettino wanted more of an attacking threat.

In fact, Kane's comeback made it even more logical to push Son, with all his energetic running, up front too because the England striker was bound to be rusty.

We saw exactly how it was meant to work when Son burst clear inside a bright opening passage for Spurs and sprinted into Arsenal's area. His pass across the goalmouth just eluded Kane, who was bound to be lacking some sharpness.

But it was exactly the type of move that his manager imagined from this pair except for the missing finish that, he will hope, comes as Kane finds his form.

It will be interesting to see if Pochettino persists with a system that he should know well, having played it with Argentina under Marcelo Bielsa.

He bristled on Sunday at the idea that he was latching on to a trend, with Antonio Conte enjoying such success at Chelsea after switching to his own version of a wing-back system with 3-4-3.

As Pochettino pointed out: "We don't play like Chelsea. We play with two strikers and one behind. The teams can play different or similar systems, but nobody owns a system like the one we played today."

So would he continue with it? He was reluctant to commit, saying only that he was glad that his players had demonstrated their adaptability in the hunt for more goals.

"Today we worked a lot to try and find a better solution in the offensive situations, and tried to play always thinking oppositions' goal with our full-backs higher and playing more strikers, with one behind, to try and win the game," he said.

Tottenham did not win, or score from open play which is a continuing problem. But, in demonstrating his willingness to adapt, Pochettino will feel this was a valuable point in more ways than one.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 08, 2016, with the headline 'Tactical switch pays off'. Print Edition | Subscribe