Jack Hallows explains how Jürgen Klopp can learn from Mauricio Pochettino with Spurs performing much better than Liverpool.
I’m well aware I may cop a lot of flak for this article but hear me out here. Mauricio Pochettino has done an absolutely fantastic job at Tottenham since his arrival in the 2014/15 season and that’s good news for Liverpool. Why? He’s a very similar manager to Jürgen Klopp. His transfer policy is very similar, his ethics are similar and his style of play is the closest you can get to the gegenpress in the Premier League.
There are, however, key differences between the two managers and there are lessons that Klopp can learn from the Argentinian.
Building from the back
Let’s be honest, Liverpool’s defence is absolutely woeful. It has been for years and honestly, the goalkeeping and defending coaches at the club should hang their heads in utter shame. Of course, it doesn’t help that of late our defence has been made up predominantly of midfielders but the bottom line is that our back four is not good enough.
Sadly it’s not even a case of lack of depth anymore. The Reds have two defenders – Clyne and Matip – that are worthy of a top four starting line up and that’s it. There are players with potential – Gomez and Alexander-Arnold definitely have bright futures – but the likes of Lovren, Klavan, Lucas, Moreno and Milner cannot be constants in our defence if we’re going to win trophies and challenge for Champions League football.
Pochettino recognised the need for a strong defence when he arrived at the club and for me, other than perhaps Chelsea, Spurs have got the best defence in the league by a country mile. Their first choice back five of Lloris, Walker, Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Rose are a no nonsense, bullish, hard to break down unit and it’s no surprise that they’ve only shipped 18 goals in 26 league games this season.
Truthfully, all of these players aside from Alderweireld were at the club when Pochettino arrived but the Argentinian has added depth to each position and it’s hard to really see a glaring weakness. Mainstay stand-ins Vorm, Trippier, Wimmer, Dier and Davies are all more than capable alternatives and Klopp’s defensive resources pale in comparison. This Tottenham team can play some breathtakingly exciting and attacking football at times but they do so in the knowledge that the best defence in the league is protecting them.
There is an evident balance in the back four as well that allows the London side to be so solid in defence. Walker and Rose get up and down intelligently and at pace – picking their moments to join the attack and knowing exactly when to track back. Vertonghen is a solid defender but most importantly exhibits impressive leadership while Alderweireld is a complete defender. He’s a hard tackling, ball playing centre back and his leadership qualities are exceptional.
I genuinely believe Klopp is a superb tactician at times. There’ve been occasions this season when I’ve picked up on subtle changes to the line up, positioning, nature of the press and movements that have left me applauding the German’s tactical nuance. However, while his attention to the game’s subtleties is fantastic, the bigger picture is severely lacking.
Spurs are very good at changing their system to suit a fixture. They recognised against league leaders Chelsea that they had the personnel to not only match their 3-4-3 but punish them back in January and made it work. It was, however, not the first time we’d seen Spurs use the system. Where Klopp seems to pick a preferred system and stick by it – the fluid 4-3-¾-1-4-1 system of this season – Pochettino is known to have a couple of different systems up his sleeve for certain occasions.
Spurs will regularly line up in the staple formation of English League football today – a 4-2-3-1 – but have also been known to use a 3-4-3/5-2-3, a 4-3-3 and a 3-5-2 to suit their game plans. It’s evident that each formation is worked on heavily in training and that the Argentine looks to keep opponents guessing by drilling his side into being able to effectively perform in multiple formations. While there’s nothing wrong with sticking to a single system – Leicester won the league on the back of a simple 4-4-2 last season – it often helps to have a plan B and occasionally a plan C when needed.
Klopp has been openly criticised for not having a clear plan B when things go against Liverpool and personally I believe it’s something he needs to change seriously quickly. We’ve seen over recent weeks that he’s occasionally changed to a 3-5-2 sort of formation and there’ve been times that a diamond has been used when playing Sturridge and Origi up top and it’s time he started utilising these kinds of switches more often.
Approach to the transfer market
Klopp can learn from Pochettino’s rights and wrongs here. The two managers have very similar philosophies both on and off the pitch and their transfers dealings are just one of those many similarities. Both recognise that their respective clubs aren’t quite on the same level of financial backing or current reputation as the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal or Chelsea and prefer to sign players they can mould into stars of the future. It’s admirable but it’s not going to win you the league.
Pochettino’s Spurs side managed to somehow finish third in a two horse race last season after slipping up spectacularly towards the final weeks of the season and practically handing Leicester City the league title. This season yet again they would have been true contenders had they managed to get themselves over the line in games more often – they’ve drawn 8 league matches this season. This is down simply to one thing and one thing only. Mentality.
Like Liverpool, Spurs have a fairly young squad overall. They’re experienced, talented footballers and their levels of ability are never going to be called into question. They’ve got sublime footballers all over the pitch but they absolutely lack winners. They don’t have the same ‘bottle job’ reputation as rivals Arsenal but as the saying goes “Spurs will always do a Spurs,” and that’s something that has to be changed by Pochettino.
So what’s the lesson, Jack? I hear you asking impatiently. Recent reports have suggested that Pochettino sat down with Spurs owners and asked them to start splashing the cash. He’s recognised that his side are ,to be fair, close to being good enough to winning the league but that they cannot do it if their marquee signings are going to be the likes of Heung-Min Son, Vincent Janssen or Moussa Sissoko. The Argentine knows that while attracting top class players to Tottenham will be a tougher job than trying to get them to Arsenal, United, Chelsea or City he has to try.
This is the same thing Klopp needs to do. Get in quick, get in strong and get players in one of the top brackets of transfers. Signing potential is fine and I’d honestly love to see two or three signings like Ryan Sessegnon of Fulham and Julian Brandt of Leverkusen come through the door to see what Klopp can unlock in their games. This being said however, they need to be accompanied by players of a higher quality. The likes of Naby Keita, Lorenzo Insigne and Alexandre Lacazette have all been touted lately as targets and I say go all out for the three of them. Spend the money, bring in the quality and the results will almost certainly come.
It’s no secret that a marquee signing or two not only lifts fans moods but also lifts the feeling amongst the squad. It creates excitement around the club and breeds a winning and positive mentality. Something Liverpool has been missing for large parts of Klopp’s reign so far. For me, this Summer Klopp has a huge job to do.
There’s still evidently a large amount of dead wood left to clear and he needs to spend the money on three or four huge signings and another two or three future stars to up the depth in quality that Liverpool have got. It’s time to stop relegating ourselves to the shopping windows of mid-table clubs and start spending the money that is evidently there.
So there you have it. Pochettino may not have won the league with Spurs yet but there are plenty of similarities to draw upon between his Spurs side and Klopp’s Liverpool. There are also areas that Klopp has to pay careful attention to when it comes to his own squad and he has got to make sure that he makes these fixes. I personally believe Klopp is a superior manager to Poch but the Argentine has done an absolutely fantastic job with Spurs and if Klopp can do the same at Liverpool then I have no doubts we’ll soon be an absolute force to be reckoned with.