Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 June 2019

Mauricio Pochettino a man at ease in his surroundings at Spurs, unlike Slaven Bilic at West Ham

Two managers at sliding ends of the comfort scale in respect to their jobs ahead of last-16 League Cup match

Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino smiles before the match against Liverpool at Wembley. Gerry Penny / EPA
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino smiles before the match against Liverpool at Wembley. Gerry Penny / EPA

With Everton looking for a third manager in almost 18 months, Leicester City the same amount in eight, and club bosses the length and breadth of England looking nervously over their shoulder, it's refreshing to find one completely at ease in his surroundings.

Mauricio Pochettino is a man with the world at his feet at present. His Tottenham Hotspur side are the toast of Europe after taking on the champions of the continent head-on at the Bernabeu and the darlings of the Premier League following the total destruction of Liverpool four days later at Wembley. In a profession as volatile as top-flight management, where the rumblings of disquiet continue to dog even a title-winning tactician in Antonio Conte, Pochettino seems to have one of the safest seats around.

The Argentine's stock has been on the rise since first taking charge of the North London club in May 2014. He has guided the club to third and second-place finishes in the league and has established them as Uefa Champions League regulars after struggling for so long to break through their glass ceiling of finishing in the top four.

This season promised a sterner test of his credentials though. With the temporary move to Wembley while White Hart Lane is redeveloped, Spurs were always going to struggle to replicate the form that saw them boast the most formidable home record of any team in Europe last term. But with the Wembley monkey well and truly off their back following consecutive league wins against Bournemouth and Liverpool, as well as against Borussia Dortmund in their Champions League opener, Spurs have emerged as serious contenders in trying to derail the Manchester City juggernaut.

A manager and his team's success and failures should never be judged too far apart. Spurs' ascension domestically and in Europe owes as much to Pochettino's nous and and tactical awareness as it does Harry Kane's red-hot form.

The matches against Real Madrid and Liverpool are two cases in point. The decision to deploy Fernando Llorente alongside Kane in a two-man strike-force caught Zinedine Zidane's side on the backfoot, so accustomed they have become to facing just one striker while opposition teams opt for an extra body in midfield. The Spanish striker might not have uprooted any trees, but his aerial presence and ability to hold the ball up clearly ruffled the feathers of Raphael Varane and Sergio Ramos.

Likewise against Liverpool. Ben Davies, a left-back who has excelled under Pochettino, and Danny Rose, another, were on the bench as the Argentine opted for two right-sided players in the full-back positions. Serge Aurier was tasked with keeping flying Egyptian winger Mohamed Salah in check while Kieran Trippier burgeoned his reputation as one of the team's best passers with a delightful short chip over the Liverpool rearguard that led to Kane's first.

Further forward, Eric Dier was benched in favour of an extra attacking player. Son Heung-min's promotion meant he was the closest player to Kane at the tip of the attack with Dele Alli, who has struggled this season playing almost as a second striker, deployed at the base of midfield. The result was a superbly taken goal for the South Korean and one of the biggest cheers of the day when the England midfielder nut-megged Emre Can close to the touchline.

Both matches illustrated the team's progression and Pochettino's ability to outsmart his opposite number. It has got to the point now where even Spurs fans are guessing what the make-up of the side will look like for Saturday's match at Jose Mourinho's Manchester United.

The former Espanyol and Southampton manager has many admirers in the corridors of power at Old Trafford, so much so that Alex Ferguson was dispatched to woo Pochettino at a restaurant in upmarket Mayfair in London in May 2016.

Pochettino has always insisted the meeting was innocent, and United had already lined up Jose Mourinho to replace Louis van Gaal. The Argentine had signed an improved five-year contract with Spurs, but sounding out Pochettino about a future role at the club is by no means far-fetched.


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While Pochettino looks a man with many suitors, the same cannot be said of his number in the opposite dugout for Wednesday's League Cup last-16 encounter.

Slaven Bilic's second-season syndrome has now spilled over into a third at West Ham United. Friday's 3-0 defeat at home to Brighton & Hove Albion was the most embarrassing on the Croatian's reign and has prompted calls for his dismissal.

Avoid a heavy defeat at Wembley and it seems likely Bilic will get the chance to take on bottom club Crystal Palace on Saturday. Lose that and the chances are he will be the fourth managerial casualty of the season following the sackings of Frank de Boer, Craig Shakespeare and Ronald Koeman.

Updated: October 25, 2017 10:46 AM



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