Tottenham aim to rebuild momentum against Southampton after derby defeat to Arsenal
Spurs manager Pochettino welcomes to Wembley his former club, who are unrecognisable from the side he guided to an eighth-place finish
Just as his Tottenham Hotspur hear the doubts about their limited horizons echoing around them, manager Mauricio Pochettino gets a clear sight of how far he has come as a Premier League manager. The visitors on Wednesday evening to Spurs’ temporary Wembley home are Southampton, his ex-employers.
It is a Southampton in ragged shape, under the interim watch of their fifth different manager since Pochettino held the job, ahead of his being headhunted, five and half years ago, by Spurs on the basis of the dynamic effect he had on Saints in his first full season working in the Premier League.
He took them to eighth in the final table. Southampton are now in the relegation zone, sacked Mark Hughes as manager on Monday, and will have Kelvin Davis, who was Pochettino’s occasional captain at St Mary’s, in caretaker charge on Wednesday.
Davis must hope Tottenham are bruised and fragile from the defeat at Arsenal in a fiery North London derby on Sunday, which slammed the brakes abruptly on Spurs’ momentum.
Eight days earlier, a win over Chelsea at Wembley - the stadium they are still tenanting because of delays to completion of the new White Hart Lane arena - left them as London’s top club in the table; a win over Inter Milan then kept alive their hopes of reaching the last 16 of the Uefa Champions League. A 2-1 lead over Arsenal had sent them into half-time in the derby fully revved up.
They finished 4-2 losers and, with Jan Vertonghen sent off, down to 10 men. The top club in London in the table suddenly became the third-placed once again, Arsenal leapfrogging their rivals, Chelsea slipping back ahead of Spurs.
And an old refrain about Tottenham’s patchy record in matches against clubs in the top six was referenced. Spurs slid to fifth, which, narrow though the gap is between third and fifth, sets off an alarm bell at Tottenham headquarters.
The new stadium, now expected to stage its first Spurs game in February, is designed for hosting Champions League football, for top-four finishes, an arena financed on the basis that Champions League income will be a regular part of the club’s budget.
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The strain on that budget while the club committed resources to replacing the old 36,000 arena with a new 62,000 stadium meant no new signings in the last transfer window. Pochettino has been stoic about that but hinted after the Arsenal defeat at a group of senior players sapped by the demands of the calendar.
“We started to pay for the effort against Inter and Chelsea,” he said. “It was difficult to show the energy we normally show.” The underlay beneath the first XI carpet looks thin: Juan Foyth, the 20-year-old Argentine central defender, had a difficult 90 minutes against Arsenal, deputising for experienced Toby Alderweireld, who had been rested on the bench.
Foyth made his league debut only a month ago, and under the care of Pochettino, has enjoyed a accelerated development: some tough lessons - he conceded two penalties in one game - and some big milestones - his first international cap, his first Spurs goal - in a short time. These are the rewards young talents expect from Pochettino, a manager who has built a reputation for his excellent nurturing of young footballers.
It was why Tottenham lured Pochettino from Southampton, where a strong academy structure allied to Pochettino’s knack for advancing individual careers made the Saints an envied model.
The Southampton Pochettino guided to the top half of the table included several footballers who grew into England internationals in his time there - Nathaniel Clyne, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez - and a very large band who moved on to heavyweight clubs - many to Liverpool - for substantial transfer fees.
Southampton, selling lucratively, scouting intelligently, thrived under Pochettino and his successor Ronald Koeman. They reached the League Cup final under Claude Puel in 2017. But the side who take on Spurs with just one win this season are scarcely recognisable from Pochettino’s time.
Since Puel was, puzzlingly, deemed to be the wrong choice, two managers - Mauricio Pellegrino and Hughes - have come and gone. The club have made Ralf Husenhuttl, formerly of RB Leipzig, their priority in the search for a replacement and they dream of finding someone who can affect fortunes as Pochettino did.
He took over, back in January 2013, with the club 17th in the table. Nine months later his Southampton had soared as high as third.
Updated: December 5, 2018 08:09 AM