Pochettino rekindles Tottenham’s fighting spirit

Date published: Sunday 8th November 2015 8:30

Harry Kane: Striker scored the opener in the North London derby

Tottenham may not have held onto their 1-0 lead in the north London derby, but their performance suggests they can return to the top four.

Much like their arch rivals Arsenal, Spurs could always be relied upon to play attractive football, the only problem being they could also always be relied on to concede a soft goal, or find a way to shoot themselves in the foot.

Roy Keane’s revelation that Sir Alex Ferguson once entered the Manchester United dressing room with his side trailing at half-time to Spurs, only to say “lads, it’s Tottenham”, shows they have often been hard to take seriously.

However, under the guidance of Mauricio Pochettino, they are slowly developing into a major threat to the Premier League’s elite.

For large periods of the pulsating encounter against the Gunners, especially the first half, Pochettino’s men held the ascendancy.

Arsenal’s midfield were never afforded a second to find their rhythm, meaning Arsene Wenger was tasked with a much more difficult half-time team talk, so much so he was forced into replacing his maestro, Santi Cazorla, with the much more dogged Mathieu Flamini.

After 12 months of shaping his squad at White Hart Lane, Pochettino has been able to rid the squad of all those who could not – or would not – buy into his high-intensity style of football.

Emmanuel Adebayor, Roberto Soldado, Aaron Lennon, Younes Kaboul, Paulinho, Etienne Capoue have all departed, while Andros Townsend is widely expected to be the next one shown the door.

What is left is a group of hungry, young, talented footballers, who appear to be relishing the testing demands of the Argentinian manager.

Unusually for the North London side, there were few high-profile incomings during the summer, but Pochettino’s greatest achievement has been revitalising a host of individuals who had become stale at Tottenham, and were seemingly heading for the exit.

The likes of Moussa Dembele, Erik Lamela, Jan Vertonghen, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker have all been justifiably criticised over the last couple of seasons, and yet they have become key figures in the former Southampton boss’ well-drilled outfit.

The turnaround this season of Dembele and Lamela in particular has been a major factor in Spurs’ impressive form, which has seen them go unbeaten in the league since the opening day of the season.

At the Emirates, the duo – in the past listless and unwilling to fight for their team – constantly closed down and harried the opposition, whilst when in possession they shrugged off challenges and carried the ball with purpose.

Erik Lamela

It is now half a decade since Harry Redknapp guided a squad of much more high-profile stars, many of whom were in the prime of their careers, to the Champions League quarter-finals.

That side undoubtedly contained more talent than the current team. Scott Parker was relied upon to do all the donkey work, allowing the likes of Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart to tear the opposition apart.

In contrast, Pochettino’s outfit hunt as a pack. Their discipline to press at such a high intensity whilst remaining in shape is remarkable for a club renown for individual ability rather than collective determination.

Of course they were forced to ride their luck at times, and Olivier Giroud should have scored on at least two occasions for the hosts.

In the past such an Arsenal onslaught would have resulted in a Spurs collapse. And yet they displayed the resolve to keep the scores level – by hook or by crook – and also fashion a number of their own chances which could have resulted in a winner.

Manuel Pellegrini has called upon owners to give Premier League managers at least three years to make their mark at a club. Pochettino has managed to transform Tottenham in only 12 months, and with a place in the top four there for the taking, they appear up for the fight.

Rob Conlon

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