Has Manchester United's interest spurred Mauricio Pochettino's ambition?
Background Photos: Wembley, Chris Downer/Old Trafford, Stacey McNaught, CC By 2.0
Sacking Jose Mourinho unlocked many doors. Manchester United players played freely again. Fans found joy after five years of worry. Still, no on expects the early results under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to last. Mauricio Pochettino offers the best odds to be United's next permanent manager.
In just three games, everything changed following Mourinho's dismissal. Unbeaten under their happy-go-lucky interim boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, it feels like old times. Pep Guardiola and rivals Manchester City contributed to the mood by unexpectedly dropping two matches. Meanwhile, Spurs recorded two of their season's biggest wins, thrashing Everton and Bournemouth by an 11-2 aggregate. Pochettino teased United fans with what could be theirs come July.
Making Spurs title contenders once again this season is especially remarkable considering they didn’t make a single signing in the summer. Unlike others in the top half, Pochettino was given no support from the club. They wouldn’t fund anything with stadium delays at the new White Hart Lane draining off resources.
Rather than voice his dismay as Mourinho did in his final United months, Poch stuck with the script. After losing two of their first five Premier League games, it seemed Tottenham faced a rocky road. Appearances didn't account for the squad's self-belief or their manager's astute tactics. The players rallied to end the year with guns blazing.
Since a slightly shaky start, Spurs only lost to defending champions Manchester City and rivals Arsenal, mostly due to complacency. The recent loss to Wolves was a glitch in the matrix. Fatigue brought on by the heavy run of fixtures caught up with the team. Even so, they outplayed Wolves for the greater part of the match but failed [for once] to take their chances. Spurs have scored 43 goals in the Premier League this season, distributed well among their four front-men.
Despite Harry Kane's influence, Spurs have other options these days. Seven goals from Heung Min-Son, six from Lucas Moura, brilliant work from Christian Eriksen lifts pressure off the England international. The Spurs captain nonetheless continues his ruthless run with 12 goals. The way Pochettino’s raised the performance-level of Son and Moura while making a complete striker off Kane is something Sir Alex perfected at United.
However, as their losses indicate, Spurs aren't quite the complete package ready to compete with Liverpool and City for the league title. Spurs look favourites for third but will fight hard to give the top two a run for their money.
The Argentine has the team competing on three other fronts as he seeks his first trophy in North London. Having progressed into the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup, Spurs have their best chance in a decade. Handle Chelsea as they did in the league and they are into the final.
Faltering against Man United in the FA Cup last season offered the Argentine a valuable lesson. Spurs need a more cautious approach to big FA Cup occasions while being more ruthless in knockout games. If they manage to claw their way into lifting the trophy, it'll be a commendable achievement considering the number of top teams, including Manchester United, waiting for them in the oldest football tournament on the planet.
In the Champions League, Spurs face in-form Borussia Dortmund who’ve been flooring teams with their blistering attack in 2017/18. Speedy teams usually trouble Spurs. It’s essential for Pochettino to flex his tactical muscle to contain Lucien Favre’s side. Spurs' defensive set-up must be rigid while allowing his side to counter-attack. Progression into the quarter-finals ahead of United, who look destined to falter to heavyweights Paris-Saint Germain, could also be a statement of intent from the former Espanyol and Southampton boss.
Mauricio Pochettino should know he can’t reach top-tier status with Spurs' limitations. The shackles will be off him as well at Old Trafford. However, with United allegedly having to pay Spurs £34 million for his services, the Argentine needs to pull off his biggest tricks yet to win over Ed Woodward and company come May.