Wednesday 18 September 2019, 23:45

Pochettino's chess moves pay off

  • Pochettino nominated for The Best FIFA Men’s Coach award with Guardiola and Klopp

  • Tottenham reach UEFA Champions League final thanks to his tactical switches

  • Pochettino: “This type of emotion is impossible without football”

The situation could not have been more desperate for Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur at half-time of the second leg of their UEFA Champions League semi-final against a dynamic Ajax side on 8 May this year.

Trailing 2-0 on the night, Spurs found themselves 3-0 down on aggregate and needing to find three second-half goals to advance, away from home.

That would be no easy task considering that they had failed to score at all in the first 135 minutes of the tie and that Erik ten Hag’s side were on a roll, playing a vibrant brand of possession football that had accounted for Real Madrid and Juventus in previous rounds.

If Tottenham were to reach their first ever Champions League final, they would need to change tack and adopt a different strategy.

The tactical set-up

Far from giving up or losing faith, Pochettino rang the changes and switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation for the start of the second half, with full-backs Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier given licence to attack down their flanks.

Moussa Sissoko had the job of maintaining balance in midfield, while Son Heung-min and Lucas Moura were the men entrusted with doing the damage up front.

There was little they could do, however, to unsettle the Dutch side’s double pivot in midfield, which prompted Pochettino to bring on Fernando Llorente for Victor Wanyama, who had been occupying a holding role.

The imposing Spaniard took up position on the right side of the box, his brief being to use his considerable strength and presence to get on the end of crosses. In bolstering his front line in search of goals, Pochettino took a calculated risk in midfield, where Spurs now had one less player to combat the opposition’s attacks.

The outcome

Though Llorente did not get on the scoresheet, his mere presence gave Moura the space he needed to start causing Ajax problems. Meanwhile, Son, who until then had been operating behind Moura, moved to the left flank and provided a valuable outlet that gave Spurs some much-needed depth, while also offering a lurking threat in the box.

Pochettino’s intricate game of chess paid off handsomely in the end, with Moura scoring the three goals that took the English side through, the last of them coming in truly dramatic fashion, in the closing seconds of the game. Having achieved a long-awaited place in the final, Spurs came up short against domestic rivals Liverpool, going down 2-0.

The reaction

“It’s an incredible feeling. Thank you, football. My players are heroes and the second half was amazing. This type of emotion is impossible without football. My thanks to everyone who believed in us. It’s difficult to explain in words.” Mauricio Pochettino