Last season Tim Sherwood struggled to pick an effective lineup every week. Whenever his team won, he'd start the exact same team the next match. If the starters didn't cut it, but the subs secured the victory, then those subs would start the next match for the men they replaced. No matter who he faced or what the particular circumstances of the game happened to be, Sherwood would stick with what worked the last time out. If the team lost then it was time to throw something new at the wall and hope it stuck.
By the end of his reign it became clear that whatever the result for Spurs, Tim Sherwood had no idea why it happened. Match after match he put all his chips on black, and as long as it didn't come up red he just let it ride. Against Liverpool on Sunday, Mauricio Pochettino displayed that same worrying habit.
Now to be clear, Pochettino's lightyears ahead of Sherwood tactically and while he may have replicated Tim's failings it was probably not for the same reason. Where Sherwood stuck with the same lineup over and over again because he didn't seem to have any idea how to tinker it, Poche's problems have a different root.
At a club like Southampton, barring injury or exhaustion, there was little reason for Pochettino to ever tinker with his first choice eleven. At that level, a club is lucky to have eleven good players, let alone enough squad depth to chop and change based on the opponent. Pochettino had eleven reliable guys who fit his system better than anyone else and he grew accustomed to trotting those same players out every week. Why on earth would he ever start Jos Hooiveld with a fit Dejan Lovren? The same holds true for a massively talented club like Real Madrid. For 34 games a season, tactics are irrelevant when your first choice side is that much better than the opposition.
But at a team like Spurs, making use of squad depth is essential to compete. Pochettino's first choice side is good enough to dominate everybody below us in the table, but against a team like Liverpool there's room to tweak the lineup even if it means leaving out some of Pochettino's "best" eleven.
Liverpool used attacking fullbacks and the pace of Sturridge, Balotelli, and Sterling to devastating effect on Sunday. With both Danny Rose and Eric Dier exposed by the lack of protection ahead of them, goals were almost inevitable. But this could have been easily avoided by utilizing the specific talents of Spurs' squad players.
Aaron Lennon, despite his obvious limitations, has unrivaled pace and an incredible willingness to track back and provide defensive cover. Instead of having Nacer Chadli hanging out in the opposition penalty box, Lennon could have provided the protection Rose so desperately needed. Likewise, the out of favor Sandro could have come in for Nabil Bentaleb to help protect Capoue and the back line.
Now this may seem like a negative approach (although against a team with an attack as explosive as Liverpool's playing to counter that makes a lot of sense) it's not the only way Pochettino could have tinkered his preferred lineup to match up better against Liverpool.
As mentioned above, Liverpool's fullbacks spent a lot of time on the overlap, and as Man City proved the week before, the gaps between the fullbacks and Liverpool's inexperienced centerback partnership were ripe to be exploited. If Pochettino opted not to counter Liverpool's attack with an improved defense, he could have tweaked the attack to target these deficiencies. The lineup Spurs' manager put out contained three attacking midfielders who preferred to operate in central areas, leaving nobody to expose Liverpool's defense in its most vulnerable areas. While Andros Townsend and Lennon may not be as effective as some would hope, their skills are specifically tailored to attacking those wide areas.
It's possible that this is making too much of a one-off occurrence, but Spurs' deadline day transfers and rumors reinforce the possibility that Pochettino may not yet see the value in having different options within the squad. For example, he seemed all too willing to jettison Townsend and Lennon and secure either Danny Welbeck and Jay Rodriguez. While they both fill the left forward role better than either of Spurs' current wingers, they, like Chadli, all play in roughly the same manner. Improving the first choice eleven is one thing, but the team can't afford to dump the squad players who can provide a Plan B when Plan A won't cut it. Similarly, though Sandro may lack the discipline and passing of Capoue, he's a much more mobile destroyer. Unlike Capoue, he provides much better cover for the fullbacks with his willingness to move laterally on the pitch, and having this skillset in the squad would give us a different option when it's needed.
It's admirable that Poche showed faith in the same lineup that so comprehensively demolished QPR the week before, and it's important that he has faith in his system. But he must also learn to use the role players within the squad depending on the scenario presented by a given opponent. Hopefully the humbling suffered at Liverpool's hands will help him adapt and learn these lessons.