Poch's plan to stop City juggernaut

Poch's plan to stop City juggernaut
From ESPN - December 15, 2017

For the first time since Mauricio Pochettino took charge of Tottenham in 2014, the club is enduring something of a slump. Their Champions League performances this season have been superb -- they have more points than any other in the competition -- but their league results have been underwhelming.

Progress under the Argentine had, until now, been constant. From fifth in his first season, to third in his second season, to second last season, Spurs have been travelling in the right direction in terms of style and results. But now they find themselves challenging for the Champions League places rather than the title -- mainly because they are failing to take points from their direct rivals.

Spurs lost 2-1 to Chelsea, 1-0 to Manchester United and, most surprisingly, 2-0 to Arsenal when many expected them to dominate at the Emirates. None of these results are disgraceful on paper, but Spurs are no longer underdogs in these top fixtures. Their 4-1 victory over Liverpool shows Tottenham still have an appetite for the big occasion, and the tactical nous to outplay comparable sides, but it's increasingly becoming a distant memory.

The other reason Tottenham are not fighting for the title, of course, is because Manchester City appear unstoppable. This weekend's trip to the Etihad, then, is an opportunity to set the record straight in two different respects -- to show that Spurs can win big matches, and to prove City are fallible. Ending the unbeaten record of Pep Guardiola, who Pochettino has clashed with both in Spain and England, is added motivation.

Guardiola and Pochettino's meetings when in charge of Barcelona and Espanyol respectively were fascinating. Pochettino was one of the few managers in La Liga who ordered his side to press extremely high, essentially taking on Barca at their own game. Pochettino attracted plenty of praise for this approach -- sometimes they successfully managed to nullify Barca's passing moves, sometimes they were thrashed. But Pochettino is not a manager who believes in parking the bus against Guardiola sides, and we can expect an aggressive approach this weekend, too.

The problem for Pochettino, though, is the number of defensive injuries he's forced to contend with. Victor Wanyama is a long-term absence, Toby Alderweireld will be out until February, while Davinson Sanchez's three-match suspension is a particular problem because it means Eric Dier is required in the centre of defence, rather than midfield. Which means you can almost consider this four absences in the central, defensive positions -- Alderweireld and Sanchez from defence, and Wanyama and Dier from midfield.

If that sounds like it's stretching the point, it's worth remembering Tottenham need to be solid, disciplined and aggressive this weekend -- in the central midfield zones where David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne operate.

These two, more than anyone else, get Manchester City playing good football. They are the two most prolific assisters in the league, No.10s converted into No.8s. Last weekend, Jose Mourinho used Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic in borderline man-marking roles against them, and while City dominated at Old Trafford, Silva and De Bruyne were not at their creative best. It was the movement of Raheem Sterling that caused more problems, while City's goals came from set pieces.


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