Pochettino's positivity deserves praise amidst all the Liverpool-Spurs drama
PLENTY has been said and written and shouted at TVs about the decisions from the match officials which contributed to the 2-2 score-line at Anfield on Sunday between Liverpool and Spurs.
Yet not so much has been mentioned about one of the major reasons for the visitors not losing: Pochettino’s positivity. Perhaps aided by that fairly rare ingredient: Klopp caution, which could have played its part in the hosts not winning.
Managers can influence matches in several ways, from their starting selection to the tactical approach(s) they ask their team to take – and also by the substitutions they make.
Liverpool, having taken a very early lead through goal machine Mo Salah, had a choice to make as the game wore on: push on for a second goal or try to sit on and protect their slim advantage.
Jurgen Klopp chose the latter, although arguably he had little or no choice, with increased defending forced upon him as Mauricio Pochettino got his men to play with more pace in the second period.
Still, in the high stakes managerial game on the sideline, deciding whether to stick or twist, it seemed like Klopp blinked first.
Sadio Mane has been mostly out-of-sorts for some time, the odd wonder strike apart, but when the Senegalese striker was taken off 20 minutes into the second half he wasn’t replaced by another out-and-out attacker, even though Klopp had Dominic Solanke and Danny Ings on the bench.
Instead, the Reds’ boss sent on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. An attacking midfielder, sure, but not a forward.
Klopp also made a like-for-like substitution at that same time, taking off skipper Jordan Henderson and replacing him with another central midfielder in Gini Wijnaldum.
Five minutes later Pochettino made a very different alteration. Off went centre half Davinson Sanchez (who admittedly wasn’t playing particularly well), on came attacker Erik Lamela.
With defensive midfielder Eric Dier dropping into defence, Spurs now had a fearsome front FIVE, the Argentinian augmenting the usual already scary quartet of Christian Eriksen, Son Heung-Min, Dele Alli, and Harry Kane.
Perhaps as a reaction to that, the Liverpool manager’s third change was definitely a defensive one, arguably two.
Not only did he replace a midfielder (James Milner) with a centre back (Joel Matip), he altered his system, going to five at the back, with the new man in operating as one of three centre halves.
A minute later Pochettino made what seemed a like-for-like change of his own in central midfield, Victor Wanyama coming on for Moussa Dembele.
The feeling was that the Kenyan’s task would be to act as a one-man screen for the Spurs rearguard, allowing those five forwards to work their magic for the final 15 minutes.
Instead, almost immediately, he struck a stunning equaliser from distance.
That’s when the fun really began.
Spurs were awarded a penalty – eventually (and probably correctly) – even if referee Jon Moss didn’t come across as half as, er, smart as his assistant Eddie Smart. The latter understood the latest interpretation of the offside law, which is that if a defending player deliberately plays a ball to an opponent in an offside position, he’s not considered offside.
We could debate how much contact the Liverpool keeper then made with Kane, but an attacker doesn’t have to be clattered in order to be fouled or impeded, even if the way many go to ground is distasteful.
After all that, though, Kane struck a poor spot-kick, which Loris Karius saved.
Salah then somehow wriggled and squeezed in a superb second goal for Liverpool.
From looking like achieving a rare win at Anfield, having performed very well, Spurs seemed set to head home empty-handed again.
Lesser sides, a lesser manager, would have accepted that it just wasn’t to be their day.
Not Spurs. Not Pochettino.
Although amidst all the chaos it may have appeared that the managers could no longer do anything to affect the proceedings on the pitch, ‘Poch’ had one more card to play.
Enter Fernando Llorente, a classic centre forward, replacing the tricky Son.
The visitors now had a different option in attack, something different for the still shaky Liverpool defence to deal with.
With a target man to aim for, Spurs did so, from a throw-in. With time almost up, the Spaniard won a header in the Liverpool penalty area that led to a second penalty for Spurs.
Sure Lamela was ‘clever’ in getting his body between the defender and the dropping ball, but that’s not cheating.
Virgil van Dijk made the basic error of letting the ball bounce and although he did not mean to kick the Spurs player, he still did. Penalty.
This time Kane ensured Spurs got the point they deserved – but he should have thanked his manager afterwards as much as vice versa, because Pochettino helped him get the opportunity to redeem himself after his earlier miss.
This column isn’t intended as criticism of Klopp, who appears to be ‘damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t’ in terms of getting his team to defend. For all the moans about him, he’s made Liverpool a thrilling attacking outfit.
The greater praise, though, goes to Pochettino, who has created a better balanced team.
Both bosses, though, deserve great credit, working wonders on budgets that are limited in comparison to their top six rivals
Now Pochettino – and we – look forward to a north London derby, against another attacking side, Arsenal, and another positive manager, Arsene Wenger.
Whatever the outcome, the impressive Argentinian will be spurring his team on, not sitting back.