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Telegraph: West Ham match is sink or swim for Pochettino

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Somehow, I don’t buy this.

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Tottenham Hotspur Training Session Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

Tottenham Hotspur head into the international break as a club still searching for answers. The north London club are currently 14th in the English Premier League, a whopping 11 points out of the Top 4 and just six points out of the relegation zone. The good news is that Spurs are just three points out of fifth, confirming that we are dealing with one of the weirdest starts to a Premier League season in quite some time.

The speculation isn’t going to go away any time soon, given that Spurs last win was against Southampton back in September and their last away win domestically was back in January against now-relegated Fulham. Matt Law, writer for The Telegraph, dropped an exclusive last night saying that time is running out on Pochettino’s run as Spurs manager and the West Ham match could be the breaking point.

The West Ham United game immediately after the international break is now rated as make or break for Tottenham’s campaign, and could even prove decisive for the manager himself. [.....] West Ham have not won in the league since September, but Spurs have not won away from home in the league since January, when they beat Fulham. Another defeat on the road, at the home of their fierce rivals, would raise serious questions for the Spurs’ manager.

Let’s start with this: West Ham is a local rival and always a heated match. The Hammers treat it as a cup final almost every time they play Spurs, guaranteeing some added spice to the match.

The problem I have with this analysis is simple: If this is a make or break situation on the road after all that’s happened in 2019, why sack Pochettino after this match and not after the embarrassing 3-0 loss away to Brighton and Hove Albion? Yes, that was not a local derby, but that match brought everything to a head going into an international break. Sacking him then would have given Daniel Levy a little added time to find a caretaker and, possibly, a permanent replacement if he felt like moving in that direction.

Pochettino is understood to have been at Tottenham’s Enfield training centre this week as he attempts to turn around the club’s season.

He has already warned there is no quick fix and last Saturday appeared to acknowledge that he may not get the time to make the changes he wants, saying: “We are in the process to build and we will see if we have the time to build what we want.”

With Spurs on an international break, it seems Pochettino is spending extra time watching film and, perhaps, trying to find the broken cogs in the machine. His admitting of the situation is nothing new, but actually saying he may not get the time is the first real sign that Levy may pull the trigger.

Pochettino signed a five-year contract worth up to £8.5 million a year last May, with sources claiming it would cost chairman Daniel Levy around £12.5 million to sack him.

Spurs have never confirmed the details of Pochettino’s contract, but Levy would prefer not to pay an expensive compensation bill to sack a manager who has done so much for the club.

That buyout number seems low, but Law is saying he has sources backing him up so we’ll assume that it’s at least in the neighborhood of being correct. It’s not a colossal number, but Levy would obviously prefer not to be paying a manager to leave the club, especially one that has been at the helm since 2014.

Law has proven to have some sources at the club, and while a lot of this is pure conjecture, we can’t outright dismiss any of it because it does seem plausible. Supporters are frustrated, players are upset and it’s possible the only thing keeping Pochettino around at this point is that Spurs are a victory over Olympiacos away from getting to the knockout stages in the Champions League after their run to the final last season.

There is also the issue over who would replace Pochettino midseason, even in a caretaker position, with no obvious interim at the club.

This is a fair point to make. When Spurs sacked Andre Villas-Boas in December 2013 after getting smacked by Liverpool, Spurs had a pretty clear choice for caretaker in Tim Sherwood. Sherwood was Technical Director at the time and was in charge of the U-21s with plenty of success. Sherwood also wasn’t technically a caretaker as he was given a permanent deal and ultimately sacked after the season ended, making the way for Spurs to hire Pochettino.

If Spurs were to sack Pochettino and turn to their youth academy coaches in the interim, the names that jump out the most are U-23 Manager Wayne Burnett or U-18 Manager Matthew Taylor. Burnett has managed several lower league clubs, most recently Dagenham & Redbridge. Taylor was interim manager at Swindon Town just last year as they were transitioning to a new manager so he could be an option. There’s also ex-Spurs midfielder Ryan Mason who is in charge of the U-19 UEFA Youth League side. That choice seems unlikely, though a former player that this squad has actually shared pitch time with isn’t outlandish.

We have far more questions than answers at this point, but it’s not crazy to think that Pochettino can turn this around and string together some results to pull Spurs off the basement steps in the league. The wheels could also come off completely and force Levy to do what was thought to be unthinkable just 12 months ago and sack one of the best managers the club has ever had.

Only time will tell.