Could switching to 4-3-3 work for Spurs?
Tottenham Hotspur began an upward curve when Mauricio Pochettino took over in 2014. Now, in his sixth year in charge, they've gone over a precipice. Is it stagnation? Apart from moving to a new stadium, everything has remained the same.
Early season injuries to his three newest arrivals forced Pochettino to recycle an all too familiar and ageing starting XI. Most of that group have been with the Argentine since year one or two.
Training sessions and tactics remained unchanged. Earlier this month, Jack Pitt-Brooke and Charlie Eccleshare revealed in an article in The Athletic that a long-serving player complained anonymously about going through the same old sessions and messages. Still, Pochettino hasn’t lost the dressing room, the reporters claimed in the same article. He needs to find some fresh ideas, however.
No doubt Pochettino has achieved much during the last few years. He turned Spurs into a regular Champions League side. He’s challenged and beaten the best sides in England and Europe along the way. He's made Spurs relevant.
The 47-year-old did all that with a 4-2-3-1 formation. It drew out the best in his players. He is still using that system although it's not as effective these days. If Tottenham hadn't abstained from new signings for a year then lost their latest crop to injury, fresh faces may have added new, unpredictable wrinkles. As it is, the old guard is slower and opponents know what's coming.
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Pochettino opted to alter his side’s shape to a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond on several occasions this season but it hasn't delivered favourable results. Playing this system leaves them exposed in wide areas and their persisting problems at right-back suggests they cannot afford to risk it.
Worse is the form of the tips in that diamond. Both Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen have been out of depth for quite some time. The latter wanted to leave in the summer but was denied. Alli can't seem to stay healthy, affecting his timing and confidence. Spurs must learn how to play without them.
Pochettino’s primary need is to freshen things up a bit. A formational change would be a good way to start. A 4-3-3 might reward the LilyWhites in several ways.
It would stabilise the midfield and provide security for an exposed back four. It would allow Pochettino to play his best three midfielders. Moussa Sissoko, Harry Winks and Tanguy Ndombele can interchange, all serving as box-to-box midfielders but with different strengths. Sissoko is an enforcer, Winks a playmaker and Ndombele a dynamic wildcard.
In turn, their work would benefit the three attackers. Harry Kane continues to be Spurs’ focal point, no matter the formation. That won't change here. It will just modify his role. He'll play in the same manner he does so well for England. Gareth Southgate uses Kane as a no.10 or you can say a false nine in the Euro 2020 qualifiers and it has reaped rewards. His seven goals and four assists speak volumes.
When it comes to hold-up play and winning aerial duels, Kane is among the best. In this system, he drops to a slightly deeper position luring out a centre-back, creating space behind. He engages the opposing defenders and d-mids with his hold-up play. This creates the space for the wide forwards to move towards the box where there is room thanks to Kane's magnetism.
Kane isn’t that fast but he utilises Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho's pace with his vision, anticipation and incisive passing. He will have Heung Min-Son and Lucas Moura on the receiving end in North London.
Against relatively weaker teams, the former Southampton manager can introduce a more attack-minded midfielder, Alli or Eriksen while he’s still around, to commit more men forward while Ndombele and Sissoko sit deep.
This isn’t going to revolutionise the way Spurs play in terms of intent but a new method will reinvigorate the squad, re-enthuse the fanbase and make opponents once again regret stepping onto the pitch with the LilyWhites.
Two hundred miles to the North West, Jurgen Klopp realised how important it was to change things up and went with a 4-3-3. Pochettino has all the elements to do the same.