Tottenham Hotspur have yet another midweek match tomorrow, this time hosting manager-less Southampton at Wembley Stadium. Unsurprisingly, the questions for Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino centered more around the North London Derby loss to Arsenal than it did on Spurs’ upcoming opponents.
Amazingly, when pressed about how Spurs played, Pochettino reiterated his belief that despite the 4-2 derby loss he was happy with the performance of his team.
“No, no, no performance. Bad result, yes. Disappointing result, yes. Not a bad performance no. Until we conceded the 3rd goal in the 77th minute, it was an even game. The performance was good. And when you consider the two big games we played before – and I’m not going to take credit from, or ruin my appreciation of Arsenal but both teams arrived Sunday in different conditions & you cannot change those circumstances. When you have the possibility to rest 10 players in the Europa League, and 10 players play Saturday against Bournemouth to Sunday against us, when we played Wednesday a massive game, it’s completely different.
“The way we competed was really good. Sometimes the period was for Arsenal, sometimes us but until 77 minutes it was even. The action for the third goal, if you look at me, the ‘keeper left his position and put the ball onto the touchline where I was. My reaction was to run, catch the ball and play quick. At that moment, I thought we could win and be competitive. Last season they were much, much better when we lost 2-0. Of course, the result is so disappointing but I’m proud of the players, the performance, the effort – to cope with 3 big games in 7 days is so difficult – of the players. Of course we can do better but we cannot now say the performance wasn’t good.”
I know that sometimes when you’re a football manager the things you say and the opinions you express to the media are not the same things as what you say to your team or express internally. And yes, being up 2-1 at halftime was a good result. But holy smokes, I’m not sure how Pochettino can step back and look look at that performance at the Emirates and say it was a good one. It was unquestionably one of the worst performances I’ve seen out of Spurs all season, and a lot of it comes down to Pochettino’s tactics and his touchline decisions, including his substitutions.
Now, he does have a point about rotation and freshness — Arsenal were able to play a squad of kids in their Europa League match, meaning they had virtually a fresh and rested team of first teamers ready to host Spurs in the North London Derby. Tottenham, by contrast, have had to carefully manage their squad and the rotation this past week, and some players like Harry Kane went 270 minutes in a week. That’s a lot of miles on the tires.
But then, Poch went on to contradict his own point, saying that the match didn’t come down to tiredness after all.
“After the game, if you see the stats, we ran more than them. We played 10 minutes with Jan out and the physical stats were we ran more than them. The problem is maybe you can’t cope with the physical demands, you’re not fresh so your reactive, not proactive. We didn’t started the game late, maybe without the freshness we needed to compete in that type of game, we concede a penalty after 7 minutes, it was a tough moment, but we came back and we dominated.
“In the second half, until we conceded at 2-1 with Bellerin counterattacking behind our back four for Aubameyang, I think in these 10-12 minutes we were much better. We started so well. We were pressing. We had the possibility to score a third goal. At 4-2 you cannot talk too much because you lost the game. It was a very competitive game, disappointed with the result but very proud of the effort of the whole squad.”
Poch is clearly not wanting to throw his players under the bus, and that’s admirable. It’s also clear that he’s trying to be cagy with the media, and that’s okay too. I wish, however, he’d put the onus a little more on himself in his comments to the press and admit that things just didn’t work on Sunday. Poch got the tactics horribly wrong, especially in the second half, but it sometimes seems as though what constitutes a “good performance” for Pochettino comes down to how hard the team tries. Sometimes, however, effort just isn’t enough and I’d rather he admit it than continue to try and polish a turd.