Sunday, February 10, 2013

Pochettino's pressing philosophy outwits Mancini's limited tactical nous

The biggest story of the recently completed Premier League weekend was the 12 point gap established between Manchester United in first and Manchester City in second after the champions lost 3-1 at Southampton, and the Red Devils comfortably beat Everton at Old Trafford 2-0. The current narrative is that United have been consistent and have always found a way to win this season, while City have been extremely poor, and the trophy will now undoubtedly be heading to the red half of Manchester.

It's a real pity that one of the great stories of this weekend is being overlooked, that of Southampton's brilliant performance against the champions. The Saints victory was rooted in new manager Mauricio Pochettino's pressing philosophy, with the players working extremely hard to get the ball, break at speed, use possession of the ball smartly to create plenty of chances and most importantly press Man City's midfield and defence in their own half. City were clearly second best in all aspects of the game, and even Roberto Mancini couldn't come up with any excuses to defend his players, declaring it as the worst performance by his players in his three years at the helm of the club. 

The truth is that top teams generally do tend to have such performances quite frequently, but very rarely do mid-table and lower end teams have the gumption to expose the poor performances of the league's best teams. Too often teams under their managers instructions, sit back and invite pressure when they have a chance to win against the best, and more often than not they end up paying the price. 

This is where the young Argentine manager has displayed an outlook that is quite different from most of the current managers in the Premier League. Pochettino encouraged his charges to attack and look for more goals against the Citizens, who were clearly rattled by the constant surge of attacks. Their relentless search for goals did result in the home side conceding an avoidable goal on the counter, but ultimately they earned the rewards that their efforts deserved. 

The most encouraging aspect of the display for the St. Mary's faithful was that they were not surprised by the quality of the display from their team. After spending three years as a manager in La Liga, Pochettino belongs to a school of managers who believes in attacking the opposing team irrespective of their standing in the league, specifically more so at home. He has brought this outlook to the Premier League, which is a refreshing change from the standard mediocrity amongst managers that perpetuates across the league in terms of tactics, mindset and cliched post-match interviews. 

It's not often that Sir Alex Ferguson admits that an away team completed dominated Manchester United at Old Trafford, but that's what exactly he did in the aftermath of an extremely lucky 2-1 win against Southampton. On hearing this, Pochettino simply declared that Ferguson's words were of no consolation to him. He knew his tactics were spot on, and that his team were clearly superior and should probably have had their first win under him that night at Old Trafford.

Many were quick to judge the decision to recruit the new manager in January, simply because the popular Nigel Adkins was ruthlessly sacked in the middle of a good run. What is starting to become evident is that Saints chairman Nicola Cortese is not your regular boardroom chief, and when he says he wants Southampton to consistently challenge at the top, he also understands that there has to be an evolution in style along with an increased aptitude for tactical sophistication displayed by the players on the field. 

Pochettino is clearly demonstrating that he is the man to deliver Cortese's vision. Southampton are now 6 points clear of relegation, and more importantly the team displays the body language and mindset of a club that is intent on climbing up the table. Merely avoiding the drop simply won't do. In his limited time at the club, Pochettino has proved that with the right mindset, one does not need to have stars in the team to challenge the best in the league. As long as there is a strong belief in a good football philosophy allied with tactical prowess that brings out the best in his players and exposes the flaws of the opposition, Southampton fans have every right to be excited and ambitious about the future, two traits that are synonymous with their new young manager.
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