Pochettino is guilty of planning too far ahead as Spurs suffer Champions League defeat in Monaco
- Credit: EMPICS Sport
Imagine being a fly on the wall when Mauricio Pochettino called Jan Vertonghen into his office earlier this week.
“Jan, thanks for coming in. I know you’ve been here for four and a half years, fighting to get into the Champions League, and that this game against Monaco might seem pretty important. I also know you don’t really like playing at left-back. But listen, you know Danny’s suspended for the Chelsea game on Saturday and Ben’s injured…”
The Belgian’s face must have been a picture as he was told he was going to be rested for the biggest game of the season so far – the first genuine must-win encounter – to ensure he was able to play in his less-favoured position at Stamford Bridge at the weekend.
Yes, Rose’s suspension – following his fifth Premier League booking against West Ham on Saturday – presented a problem when it comes to Saturday’s trip to Chelsea, given that Davies is also out of action.
Yes, Vertonghen is usually the next in line in such situations, but he is not the only option. Kevin Wimmer has played at left-back for Austria this season.
Granted, Wimmer has hardly excelled in the role but moving the in-form Vertonghen out of the centre of the defence is also not ideal, particularly when the hugely influential Toby Alderweireld is already missing.
That fact was certainly underlined on Tuesday night as Pochettino paired Eric Dier and Wimmer in the centre together – the result was utter chaos and a lack of leadership which was evident all over the pitch.
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Tottenham’s manager has always stressed the importance of having the right balance between youth and experience, and he got the balance badly wrong just when it was needed most.
Now, since Alderweireld will also miss the trip to Chelsea, Spurs’ manager faces another conundrum.
Does he risk pairing Dier and Wimmer together in the middle again, and shift Vertonghen out to the left side as planned? Or does he change his mind after Tuesday’s mess in Monaco and return Vertonghen to the centre, deploying Wimmer at full-back instead? If he goes for the latter option then Vertonghen will have been benched for nothing.
Pochettino has been guilty of looking too far ahead - a cardinal sin in the footballing world. It is usually virtually impossible to get a manager or player to look beyond their next contest – “we’ve got to take it one game at a time,” we are so frequently told. “The next match is always the most important.”
This is certainly not always true, but this week Pochettino should have followed those oft-repeated mantras, selecting his best possible side against Monaco and then doing the same against Chelsea, even if there was a risk of also losing his third-choice left-back to injury.
Of course, he also left Kyle Walker on the bench in Monaco, leaving Spurs with only one member of their first-choice back four in possibly their toughest game of the season so far.
It made little sense, and the performance and early elimination from the Champions League is likely to have psychological consequences.
After a seven-match winless run, Spurs badly needed a fresh start after the international break and they got it – the dramatic finale against West Ham on Saturday instantly provided the lift that everyone at the club needed.
Yet the feelgood factor has already been replaced with anger and bitterness in the stands, and the away dressing room in the Stade Louis II stadium would not have been a happy place on Tuesday night.
Vertonghen and Walker may be fresh for the weekend’s game but confidence and momentum is just as important, and Spurs seem to have neither as they gear up for the derby at Stamford Bridge.
Pochettino has many issues to address. He has already stated there is not enough quality in the squad to compete in the Premier League and Champions League and a return to the energy-sapping Europa League also looks likely – although given Spurs’ record at Wembley, they could probably contrive to lose the final group game against CSKA Moscow and dodge that bullet without anyone raising suspicion.
But, in the meantime, Pochettino badly needs a good result at Chelsea to even come close to justifying his selection against Monaco.
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs