Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspurs defeated Premier League heavyweights Manchester City last weekend, making a first title since 1961- dare we say it – a realistic prospect. A blend of youthful zest, stamina training and defensive intensity make the Argentine’s team such formidable opponents.
At the start of the season, Pochettino’s team had the lowest average age of any Premier League team. The line up that beat Manchester City 4 – 1 in the reverse fixture in September had an average age of just 24 years and 40 days.
Pochettino deserves credit for the fact that many of these players were recruited domestically – some even locally – in a league that has often preferred recruiting talent from abroad.
This season has seen a number of young players flourish, including Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Eric Lamela, Danny Rose, Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier. Pochettino has put his faith in youth and they have rewarded him, and then some.
After last weekend’s 2 – 1 win against City, Pochettino’s Spurs currently sit second in the league – behind only Claudio Ranieri’s sensational Leicester.
A degree of luck, in particular a slightly questionable penalty early in the second half, contributed to Spurs’ win. But Tottenham have earned their luck.
Spurs are one of the hardest working teams in the Premier League this season, second in distance covered behind Bournemouth. Collectively, Spurs ran almost 10km further than their opponents at the weekend.
These statistics underline the work that Spurs are putting in on the training pitch. Since his arrival, Pochettino has introduced a high-intensity training regime, coupled with frequent body fat tests to ensure players are staying lean.
Indeed one player, Davies, has spoken of his astonishment at the intensity of training sessions since his arrival (http://www.theguardian.com/football/2016/feb/13/ben-davies-tottenham-mauricio-pochettino-manchester-city).
The rationale behind all the fitness work is that Pochettino, who was twice coached as player by Marcelo Bielsa, prefers a high-pressing system. Pochettino has also introduced constant positional drills on the training ground. The result has been an extremely well organised side, which is vital for the quick pressing routine to pay off.
Organised in his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, the four most attacking players are expected to contribute to the defensive work, pressing their opponents high up the pitch to try to win the ball back early. Spurs’ striker, Kane, frequently cover over 12 km a game, a distance usually reserved for hard-running midfielders.
Against Manchester City, the attacking quadrant of Kane, Alli, Eriksen and Son were were keen to close down their rivals high up the pitch. They rarely gave City’s defenders a moment’s peace, and Son and Alli, playing on the wings, harried their opponents’ fullbacks, who usually like to get forward and join the attack.
Indeed it was quick pressing that led to the winning goal, with four Spurs players surrounding and dispossessing Yaya Touré in the midfield and then launching a quick counterattack that opened up the City defence.
Another result of their well-organised play is that Tottenham have the best defensive record in the Premier League, with just 20 goals conceded. It also helps that they have one of the best goalkeepers in the league, Hugo Lloris, which was proven again by the vital touch he made that prevented Nicolas Otamendi from equalising late in the game.
In his post game analysis, Arsenal legend Thierry Henry said he could now see Spurs winning the title as they were the only team, bar one game against Newcastle, that “look in control every time I see them”. By our reckoning, it’s no accident.
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