Assessment Of Mauricio Pochettino – His First Team


The debate has gone on for the past few weeks – Who would Mauricio Pochettino select for the first game of the season at West Ham? Now we know – did the new manager get it right?

Mauricio Pochettino: The Team

Team: Lloris; Naughton, Dier, Kaboul, Rose; Bentaleb, Capoue; Lennon (Townsend), Eriksen, Lamela (Holtby); Adebayor (Kane) Subs: (unused) Friedel, Davies, Dawson, Soldado

The answer to the question about whether Pochettino made the right decisions in the selection of his first Tottenham team must be in the affirmative – Spurs won after all.

Looking more closely at the team selection and his decisions during an eventual match at Upton Park, we can see Pochetttino’s thinking.

The Team:



In goal there was no decision for the manager to make – Hugo Lloris is first choice as he proved again with important saves to keep Spurs in the game. Even when Michel Vorm is fully fit, Lloris will be first choice. Despite, Vorm’s insistence that he’s at White Hart Lane to challenge Lloris for the Number 1 position, the Holland international is there as Number 2 to provide cover for Lloris.


In other areas of the defence, however, Pochettino had big decisions to make. Injury and players lacking full fitness following the World Cup restricted his options but his decisions can be understood. In the absence of Kyle Walker, still recovering from last season’s pelvic injury, Kyle Naughton who covered for Walker was the obvious choice.

In his 28 minutes on the pitch Naughton did little to suggest that he wasn’t going to have a comfortable afternoon. In that brief period he had already covered for the central defenders, helping then out when under pressure and had pushed forward on the right. It was a harsh decision to send him off – a penalty award was correct but the shot was from close range and he was stretching to make a challenge which can’t be done with your arms by your side.

Central Defence

In central defence Pochettino opted for Younes Kaboul and Eric Dier with Michael Dawson on the bench. Jan Vertonghen wasn’t available due to his late return from the World Cup. When signed from Sporting Lisbon a fortnight ago, I doubt that Dier expected to make his debut in the first game of the season. I doubt also that Mauricio Pochettino expected to be selecting the England Under-21 defender.

Circumstances made it necessary and after his display last week against Schalke, there was every possibility that Dier would start against West Ham. He was comfortable in the centre and at right-back following the dismissal of Naughton. The added and unexpected bonus was his winning goal in the 92nd minute.

Kaboul, on the other had, had a very difficult afternoon. He had played quite well last weekend but struggled against Carlton Cole from the very beginning. As early as the 4th minute, he was on the wrong side of the striker who was described in a match report as “lumbering”. Kaboul was unable to prevent him getting to the edge of the penalty area where a shooting chance was created. He also found it difficult to defend the crosses from the wing and corners – being caught out many times through the afternoon.

Pochettino will be considering what options are open to him in central defence where he used Etienne Capoue when Naughton was sent off. In the reorganisation required to play with 10 men, Pochettino didn’t look to bring on Dawson but instead kept the offensive players in place.

The Mail on Sunday reported his post-match comments,

"…..the team believed. We kept our offensive players on the pitch. We didn’t change. This was our signal from the bench."


At left-back, Danny Rose started ahead of new signing Ben Davies. Many had expected Rose to be the one omitted but when comparing the two left-backs last weekend, Rose made a strong case for inclusion. His performance, however, against Stewart Downing was poor with most of the West Ham pressure coming through Downing and crosses from the right with Rose rarely getting close enough to stop them. Rose started but he will have to show considerable improvement to retain his position in the starting line-up.

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Defensive Midfield

Mauricio Pochettino put his faith in Etienne Capoue and Nabil Bentaleb for the holding role in central defence. Both played their part in the Spurs win although their partnership was disrupted after less than thirty minutes when Capoue moved back into central defence. Prior to that Capoue had shown a good rage of passing as Spurs dominated the early stages at Upton Park. Initially, Bentaleb’s passing was rather erratic but he improved as the game went on and in the 90th minute got forward to the edge of the box forcing a good save from the West Ham goalkeeper.

Some had expected Lewis Holtby to start with Capoue but Bentaleb was probably selected to bring more defensive solidity in an away London derby.

Attacking Midfield

Aaron Lennon, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela started the game and in the early stages were quite comfortable on the ball but as West Ham increased the pressure and when down to 10 men, there was fewer opportunities to display their creative touches. The game then required them to apply themselves defensively to make up for being a man short. Lennon worked hard but didn’t have the opportunity to break behind the defence as he had done so effectively last weekend as West Ham sat deeper. Spurs best moments in the first hour came from Eriksen but Lamela still flits in and out of the game.


Emmanuel Adebayor was selected as the lone striker but he had little opportunity on the ball. Playing against tall defenders, with the ball played in the air towards Adebayor brings little success as he rarely makes a challenge so possession is lost. He became more energised later in the game when Pochettino introduced his substitutes and from a break by Adebayor, James Collins unnecessarily blocked him and was sent off. When playing with only ten men Adebayor was isolated – he needs players around him to link up with passes kept on the ground.

After his performance against Schalke, Adebayor deserved to be selected and will continue to start ahead of Roberto Soldado.


With thirty minutes to play Pochettino replaced Lamela and Lennon with Lewis Holtby and Andros Townsend. Shortly after, West Ham went down to ten men and with more space to play in Spurs became more effective going forward. Holtby linked up the play and Townsend with his pace and direct running suddenly gave the home defence some problems. He forced Adrian to make a couple of good saves and Spurs looked as if they might get a goal.

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Harry Kane was the final substitute, replacing Adebayor for the final 7 minutes. As always he worked hard and troubled the defenders.

Kane isn’t just a striker looking for goals, he has an eye for a pass and in the decisive moment of the game, he played the ball through for Dier to break the deadlock in the 92nd minute.

In his team selection against West Ham, it was easy to see why Mauricio Pochettino made his decisions. Overall he got it right but the game will have given him food for thought and he may decide on different options for next week’s home game against Queen’s Park Rangers.

There are other matters he will want to consider:

  • Presumably the World Cup players will be ready for a game so where will they fit into his plan?
  • Will he dispense with two defensive midfield players?
  • Who will play at right-back with Naughton suspended.
  • How do you get the best out of Erik Lamela?
  • How do you create more goalscoring opportunities when teams are sitting deep in defence?

More questions than answers for Mauricio Pochettino but we’ll see what he decides after the midweek Europa League game in Cyprus which also creates a question of its own.

  • How strong a team should he play?