Football: Pochettino's positivity propels pursuit of progress

Despite a summer with no new recruits, and continued delays over a new stadium, Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino has gradually led his side into the position of title contenders at the halfway mark of the Premier League season.
Despite a summer with no new recruits, and continued delays over a new stadium, Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino has gradually led his side into the position of title contenders at the halfway mark of the Premier League season.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

In-demand Spurs manager plays down championship talk despite upturn in form

LONDON • In his biography, Brave New World, Mauricio Pochettino explains his belief in a concept called "energia universal" - the idea that people, places and things are charged with a hidden energy, positive or negative.

It is remarkable how quickly the energy, and the conversation, around Tottenham has changed.

Alongside their resurrection in the Champions League, they have won five Premier League games in a row, scored 11 goals in their past two games, and overtaken Manchester City. Only Liverpool, the league leaders, are pervaded by as much positive energy.

Only three months ago, they lost three matches in a row - to Watford, Liverpool and Inter Milan.

Two months ago they lost to City to sit fifth in the league, and their European hopes were in tatters after a home defeat by Barcelona and a draw at PSV Eindhoven.

As the turn of the year approaches, their fortunes could hardly look more different.

Spurs were not expected to be title contenders, especially after a summer with no new signings. But after 41/2 seasons, Pochettino's side have been through the sort of highs and lows that galvanise a squad and build belief.

His core of players has matured, with Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen in their prime at 25 and 26 respectively, and Dele Alli entering his at 22.

The nagging impression persists that there are elements of Tottenham's armoury that have contributed to success: Kane's finishing; the chemistry between Kane, Alli, Eriksen and Son Heung-min; Pochettino's powers of positivity.

Another source of optimism is the fixture calendar: Tottenham have by far the easiest schedule of the three title contenders over the next few weeks.

Five of their next seven league games are at home and they do not face another top-four team until Chelsea on Feb 27. Liverpool and champions City, meanwhile, play each other on Thursday.

If Tottenham are going to win the title, the next couple of months are probably their best chance to reel in Liverpool and consolidate their lead over City.

There is, of course, another factor: Pochettino's future. It has been under scrutiny since Jose Mourinho was fired as Manchester United manager and the Argentinian emerged as United's No. 1 target.

The Times reported last week that Pochettino is interested in being considered for the United job but, if he is wavering, the past few matches can only have muddied his decision further.

It is possible that Tottenham's players are not only playing for the Premier League title but also to persuade their manager that he is capable of achieving everything he wants at Spurs - another underlying source of positive energy.

Tottenham, in second place, are now title contenders, six points behind Liverpool before today's home game against Wolves.

But Pochettino, as positive as he is, insisted that it is still premature to talk about winning the title.

"We are there because we have the belief, because we are working hard and of course we have the quality," he said.

"It is hard to be in the position that we are in. Still we are a question mark. We will see if we are capable to be consistent like we are in the first half. Then we can talk that we can fight for big things.

"The gap is six points. It's still halfway to play. Everything can happen."

THE TIMES, LONDON, REUTERS

TOTTENHAM V WOLVES

Singtel TV Ch102 & StarHub Ch227, 11pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 29, 2018, with the headline 'Poch's positivity propels title chase'. Print Edition | Subscribe