Poch spice gives Saints flavour

Tuesday 12th February 2013 17:04

Pochettino: Beat City in fifth game in charge

Pochettino: Beat City in fifth game in charge

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FanZone's Southampton blogger Ben Stanfield assesses Mauricio Pochettino's impact on the team and Saints supporters after his first five games.

Mauricio Pochettino took five games to win his first match in charge of Espanyol. On that occasion, it was none bigger than winning a local derby against the magnificent Barcelona in the Nou Camp.

In charge of Saints, he's managed to do it in his fourth game but equally against the odds by beating Manchester City, the current Premier League champions, in a pulsating performance at St Mary's on Saturday evening.

To be fair to Pochettino, under his predecessor Nigel Adkins, Saints had shown all season (except against Arsenal at the Emirates) that they can compete with anyone in the Premier League when they're on their game and run them close. They hadn't beaten a top-half side all season, although they had gone close to doing it several times.

The problem with Saints though is that they have only actually managed to play well for the full 90 minutes once previously this season - when they played Newcastle off the pitch in an emphatic 2-0 win.

Even in the early days of Pochettino's reign, they had had a pulsating first-half performance against Everton, and equally in the second halves against both Manchester United at Old Trafford and Wigan at the DW Stadium - but not a full 90-minute performance.

All that promise in the first three games under Pochettino had only resulted in two points out of a possible nine. This game against City was different and Saints thoroughly warranted the three points they achieved - they were fantastic from start to finish.

Manchester City have been under pressure the last few weeks because of the fact their local neighbours United have developed quite a lead at the top of the Premier League. Saints maybe caught them just at the right time but, let's be honest, a team that has cost many hundreds of millions of pounds to assemble is never easy to play against at any time in a season.

Saints pressed from the start and put City under pressure even in areas that, to many, may seem unimportant. But as the experts say - you defend from the front!

The midfield three of Steven Davis, Morgan Schneiderlin and Jack Cork were simply brilliant - not only in chasing all over the field and winning back the ball through thoroughly committed tackles, but also by retaining possession when in control of the ball and utilising both wide players and full-backs whenever they could. Jason Puncheon, the notorious 'mid-half toilet dweller', was also superb.

As the saying goes, 'hard work beats talent if talent doesn't work hard'. That's what happened on Saturday. City made mistakes. Players that normally thrive on the ball disappeared and when they did get it, they didn't appear to want it. The Saints players wouldn't let them have it without them making sure they knew that there was a fully committed red warrior breathing down their neck.

Saints have a young team and are one of the fittest in the Premier League. They don't stop and if you give them a chance to take the lead, they'll brim with confidence and come at you. City stumbled and fumbled, and Saints thrived.

Adkins put this team together and had got them drilled well during their time in the Premier League. But they've made mistakes and lost points through the season. All clubs, even those in the top four, often do.

But Pochettino and his coaching staff, even in the short time they have been with Saints, seem to have taken them to a new level already. Maybe taking the raw Premier League talent that is clearly in all of the Saints players and adding a bit of nouse and experience to it.

At Stoke earlier in the season, Saints were 3-1 up, against 10 men, but instead of seeing the game out through experience, they kept pressing on and trying to score a fourth goal, ultimately throwing away two points and finishing with a draw - albeit against a wonder strike.

Against City on Sunday, they were clinical when they needed to be. They took the ball in the corners, kept possession and played coolly and calmly for the last 10 minutes. There wasn't as much nail-biting and 'hands in front of eyes' from fans as had always been the case with Saints and they saw the game out well.

That's what they'll need to do if they want to become a solid, well-established Premier League club over the coming years. The top sides know how to time-waste and kill off games and, as Pochettino spends more time with Saints and acquires new players with knowledge and experience, hopefully it should become a lot more comfortable when Saints are leading.

As it was this time, City very rarely threatened in the second half with only one fabulous save of note by Artur Boruc from the ever dangerous Sergio Aguero.

Pochettino, whose English is still not strong enough to use in front of the media, is certainly a manager who enjoys spending 90 animated minutes stood on the touchline, pointing and gesticulating like he is directing rush-hour traffic through Spaghetti Junction.

His passion and excitement when Saints score is clear to see and, having witnessed in the flesh two flying water bottles leaving his foot after both of Wigan's goals at the DW, it's clear he gets equally disappointed when Saints concede.

That's what I want to see on the touchline. Adkins had it in bundles when he was in charge and Pochettino, with that fiery South American personality, will certainly show his passion when he needs too.

Saints, who have only lost one game in nine Premier League matches now, have 12 remaining games to get the 13 points needed to reach the magical 40 mark. I think most are in agreement that Saints have enough about them to stay up and, to be fair, deserve to. They have come on leaps and bounds as a team this year and the future, whoever is stood on the touchline, looks very bright indeed.

For now though, it's Mauricio Pochettino's red and white army and we all hope that, whilst working on his English, he very much carries on at least pointing us all in the right direction.

By Ben Stanfield, FanZone's Southampton blogger. Follow Ben on Twitter at @benstanners.

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