We have come a long way since the appointment of Mauricio Pochettino in the summer. As soon as that Argentine started his project at Spurs, I knew that he could make a difference. I knew he was the one to take Tottenham Hotspur forward as a club, and look how far we have come. A long way in my view. Some others may think differently as we occupy that famous 5th position that has been associated with Tottenham in recent times, and it looks as if Pochettino is on a mission to change this.
Firstly from pre-season, and his time at Southampton, we saw the style of football he was going to try and play at our club, and I will get my first negative out of the way early on in the piece. I will say that at the beginning of the season this plan wasn’t executed to the highest of standards, and sometimes we were beaten at our own game. I think back to the home game against Liverpool as a prime example. We were pressed high up the pitch, forcing errors from the back line. That led to a disappointing 0-3 defeat and brought most fans back down to Earth after the impressive 4-1 victory over QPR a week before.
However, I can see many positives since the appointment of Mauricio Pochettino. He has used the youth system at Spurs to great effect, with the introduction of Ryan Mason and Harry Kane into the first team. These two players have fitted fantastically into the team, and I have been full of praise for the young English talent that is Ryan Mason since his introduction. Nabil Bentaleb has retained his place in the starting line-up since his introduction last year under Tim Sherwood.
The same goes for Harry Kane, who has lit up White Hart Lane since the start of the season. When I look at him now, I remember being in attendance at White Hart Lane when Kane came on as a substitute, and forced the game against Hull in the Capital One Cup to go to penalties. The ball fell at the feet of the striker, and instead of lashing the ball wildly over the bar, the youngster slotted the ball into the bottom corner with a neat finish like he had practiced that same scenario for weeks.
The striker – destined for a place in the England squad – has also taken to the Mauricio Pochettino style of play, winning the ball back in midfield on numerous occasions, and then wasting no time at all in getting the team onto the front foot, whether that be with a swift pass to open up the defence or a darting run, weaving in and out of defenders.
Another positive is the fitness of the squad. Not only have we won a number of games in the final minutes, but we have shown overall fitness, not just in the actual games, but also when fixtures have been tightly packed. This is something I felt we have struggled with in previous seasons.
Pochettino’s favourite subject appears to be a winning mentality. This is an atmosphere I am sure that he has created inside the Tottenham dressing room. It is almost impossible to judge this, but from what I have seen on the pitch, I am sure that the winning mentality is there. The fitness aspect has helped with this mentality.
The final thing that I would like to say, is that I am delighted with how we have approached the big games this season. I will start with the game away at Manchester City for example. Although we came out losers via a 4-1 scoreline, I thought that certain refereeing decisions went against us, but if we leave that aside and look at the performance itself, I was very pleased.
I thought we showed great character to come back from an early setback despite dominating the first ten minutes was a very good effort. We matched the Manchester side for just under an hour, looking very dangerous on the break, and actually had a penalty to level the scores up at 2-2. You cannot blame the players for starting to lose a bit of belief after falling 3-1 down at the Etihad Stadium after putting in such a good performance for an hour. Please don’t get me wrong! We didn’t set the world alight with that performance, but I felt that it was a massive improvement on what we have seen under previous managers such as AVB.
I will take Chelsea as another example. First of all, you would have to say that it was very disappointing to have as much possession as we did, and not score at all. However, we were very quick out of the blocks, and Harry Kane had two decent chances to fire us ahead, one of which hit the bar. Unfortunately, it was defensive errors that saw Chelsea pull away from us, but nevertheless I was pleased, we weren’t really as bad as the scoreline suggested.
Back in September, we picked up a draw against Arsenal in the North London derby. The approach that we took was a positive one. Arsenal did not the best of days in an attacking sense, and looked dangerous on the break, like at Manchester City. Admittedly, we had chances to win the game in the first half, but a second half goal from Nacer Chadli fired us ahead, only for it to be cancelled out by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
On the topic of big games, I have to finish with the New Year’s Day win over Chelsea. Like at City, we showed character, (alright, Harry Kane showed character) to come from a goal down and equalise on the half-hour mark. We then built on this and stormed into a 3-1 lead at half-time. We all know what happened after that! In that game, I thought we were clinical, and didn’t squander many, if any, chances that fell our way. That will create a great atmosphere in the dressing room, and we can enter the return fixtures against these teams with great confidence, knowing that we are capable of it, and most importantly, we CAN do it!