Two weeks ago we squared off with Bayer Leverkusen in Germany. Three things happened:
- We won a tightly matched first half but failed to score.
- Hugo Lloris made some amazing saves.
- Roger Schmidt went Hulk-thrashing-Loki on Poche in the second half.
The move was relatively simple: Schmidt rightly saw that Leverkusen was having trouble down the right flank as the somewhat immobile Hakan Çalhanoglu was struggling to create and couldn’t keep up with Kyle Walker when defending. To solve this, he made a simple change: He brought a more properly defensive midfielder on in Julian Baumgartlinger. He took off Çalhanoglu. He shifted midfielder Kevin Kample from central midfield to the right wing.
This move made Leverkusen quicker on the flanks, more study in midfield, and more coherent overall. And in the second half they smashed us to the tune of 1.6-0 on expected goals. It was only the heroics of Lloris in goal that saved the point for us.
So here’s the question: Did Pochettino learn anything from that? If Pochettino has a weakness as a manager, it’s his ability to read and manage individual games. He’s slow to react when his team is struggling and can be outcoached by his opposition when it comes to in-game adjustments.
Here’s what I’d like to see today, assuming that Toby, Kane, and Erik Lamela are all unable to play:
Hugo / Walker, Dier, Vertonghen, Rose / Dembele, Winks / Sissoko, Eriksen, Dele / Janssen
We’ll start with my less crazy front four: Sissoko is suspended for the NLD this weekend. So he can’t play this weekend, nor should he because he’s not very good. That leaves Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, Son Heung-Min, and (if fit) Erik Lamela as our options to attack Arsenal in this weekend’s derby.
Of Eriksen, Dele, and Son, I would prefer to rest Son for this game because we’ve run him a ton this season and he does not have the same experience of sustaining Pochettino’s demanded pace that Eriksen and Dele do. So go Sissoko, Eriksen, Dele today and plan on Eriksen, Dele, Son at the weekend with Lamela as an option ahead of Dele or Son if he’s fit.
Now let’s talk about that midfield selection: I like Victor Wanyama. Really. I do. The 4-1-4-1 he allows us to play is a nice wrinkle. But his passing is a massive liability, especially against a team like Leverkusen who figures to hassle him and limit his time on the ball. Though he usually plays as the more mobile of the two in Pochettino’s double pivot, Mousa Dembele has shown an ability to play the deeper role. He excelled in that spot last year against Liverpool. Harry Winks, meanwhile, may be young and inexperienced, but he’s also calm on the ball, will push the ball aggressively at times, and is surprisingly strong for someone so young.
I don’t at all expect Pochettino to play my midfield two; I think he probably will play the front four I’ve described above though. What do y’all think? Is my midfield idea crazy? Or could it work? My thought process is basically “Wanyama, Dele, and Eriksen isn’t muscular enough in midfield. Mousa works better in a two. We are waaaaayyyy better with Mousa. Therefore, 4-2-3-1. Wanyama is bad in 4-2-3-1. Therefore: