Pochettino’s Risk

Certain results transcend the regularity of a victory in the Premier League. Positivity pours out of N17 whenever Tottenham win a game - an extra hop in the step; a low whistle of ‘Oh When the Spurs’; the pride and relief that you can show your face at school or work on Monday morning without having to face any tedious ridicule. However, there are days that last much longer than that momentary winning high. They’ll be the games that define a season, as you replay the same images over and over in your head for the week and later look back to, months and years down the line.

Saturday afternoon was of course one of those special days. On a day that threatened to compound the misery suffered on Wednesday night, Tottenham do what they do better than anyone - the stupidly unexpected. As Eric Dier’s fine low drive flicked off the bottom of the post and nestled in the net, White Hart Lane roared. In that moment, the 30,000 plus home supporters, and the fellow Spurs fans watching across the world, allowed their pent-up frustration to burst in a volcanic eruption of fist-pumping, eye-popping relief.

The alleviation of anger and disappointment was followed by sheer disbelief as Erik Lamela took Willy Caballero for a walk on the way to Tottenham’s fourth of the afternoon. Only a fool would feel safe as a Tottenham fan with just a two-goal margin. The final nail from the Argentine - the highlight in a team full of impressive performances - was the cue for the party to really start. The dirtiness of what almost felt like betrayal in midweek was washed away in a torrent of exultation that emanated from all four corners of the famous old ground.

Vindication for Mauricio Pochettino then. Well, maybe not quite. Spurs fans are still riding the crest of a wave from the Saturday’s result, yet under the surface there remains a quiet undercurrent that leaves a bitter taste. This week could have been even better.

Pochettino’s selection in the League Cup game against Arsenal was baffling. A second string team, with a defence that made you wince, nearly battled through to the fourth round, but didn't have enough quality to kill a game that was there for the taking. If Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Dier were fit enough to play both games this week, why couldn’t Pochettino take a chance on just a few more to ensure a win that means everything to the fans?

Perhaps the former Espanyol and Southampton manager was experimenting with a new tactic after splicing together a mix of players in the week Spurs exited the Europa League to Fiorentina and suffered a cup final loss to Chelsea last season. It didn’t work then, but this time around, playing an almost completely different team in two games worked - at least for one of the matches.

The vitriol that was expelled after the League Cup exit on Wednesday was understandable, although often typically over the top. Pochettino didn't quite throw the tie, but he certainly showed where his priorities lie and - perhaps more worrying and unexpected - he showed his lack of understanding for how much a game against Arsenal means. The Argentine had previously spoken of his days playing in derbies in South America and Europe and had shown respect for this game before. Yet his naivety came to the fore if he believed Spurs fans wanted anything other than a full strength side against their fiercest rivals, whether they personally prioritise the cups or not.

The Manchester City game was an absolute must-win for Pochettino’s sake. Lose and the anger would have risen to new heights; the wounds would have taken much longer to heal. Things went to plan for Pochettino though and his rested team didn't just beat the then league leaders, they played them off the park. Last week still hurts and the trouncing of City remains tainted - if only very slightly. What could have been. Pochettino took a huge risk, though has escaped with minor grazes when it could have been much worse, and he deserves to be commended for the way his side played at the weekend.

Despite the cup failure, risk is a feature that Spurs fans welcome. Risk on the pitch will always be appreciated at White Hart Lane and it’s slowly edging its way into Tottenham’s style once again. When the tempo quickens and when the passes become more ambitious is when Spurs look at their most dangerous and at their best. We saw it on Saturday; as the team responded to the crowd, the players began pressing with more intent and forced their reward.

The early weeks of this season and much of last was plagued by very deliberate, very slow build-up. It’s perhaps a sad fact of the modern game that teams cant be quite as gung-ho as they once were - certainly in the style Spurs played under Harry Redknapp. However, the sideways passes begin to grate after a while, no matter how positive you are as a fan. It’s encouraging then that as Pochettino’s players develop, a more ambitious side to Tottenham’s play has emerged, although not to the detriment of the defence as yet.

The perfect example was Ryan Mason’s goal against Sunderland. Fluid, one-touch passing, combined with determined runs beyond defensive lines allowed Mason to scythe though, assisted by the quickness of thought from Lamela. As risks sometimes do, it came at a cost - Mason is still yet to return from the injury he suffered in scoring the goal - but the positive result is greater than the cost and this value is seemingly becoming a more common feature in Tottenham’s style. The tempo certainly rose as the confidence grew against City on Saturday and fast-paced football is when Spurs have hurt opponents most.

The week has swung from dejection to euphoria and there will be many more peaks and troughs throughout the season. The youngest team in the league seem to be learning every week though and soon we can hope for more consistent displays of the high-risk, high-reward football we are treated to only in glimpses.

Pochettino is learning lessons too. We have a right to be angry at the loss to Arsenal. That doesn’t mean we can’t laud him for the victory over Manchester City, however. He took a risk in this past week and has just about got away with it. We can only hope that he listened to the fans after Wednesday night, so that he chooses the right risks to take and when to take them.

As our club’s manager though, we have to trust him to take the chances he thinks are necessary and to keep progressing his team to play a more open, progressive and exciting brand of football that we all want, so that days like Saturday can become more than just one standout moment in a season.