MAURICIO POCHETTINO, Southampton FCPOCHETTINO IN-POSSESSION FORM vs. Sunderland (24th August 2013): 2-4-1-3 vs. 4-4-1-1 formation. This formation was also used as the high-pressing positional systems when immediately out of possession (the defensive transition).
DEFENSIVE TRANSITION: THE HIGH PRESSING GAMEHigh pressure while still in the attacking form.
The front four players are expected to immediately press upon losing the ball. Nearest man presses, next two support the pressing player, while team mates further back look to cover.
Full-backs are the first to drop back and pressure is a mixture between pressure to delay and pressure to win the ball.
POCHETTINO OUT-OF-POSSESSION FORM vs. Sunderland (24th August 2013): Deep block
Lines detail the relationship of ‘in-possession’ positions
ATTACKING TRANSITION: THE FAST TRANSITIONS AND SUPPORTRodriguez/Osvaldo were often the last to drop back into the defensive block. Enabling Southampton to play on the counter attack should the ball be won (when Rodriguez/Osvaldo hadn’t yet dropped back).
It wasn’t often that Southampton had to fall back into their defensive shape given their high percentage of possession.
CONCLUSIONThe attacking changes in the second half brought Pochettino’s Bielsa-like methods to life through positional play and the fluidity of the attack. Like Bielsa, Pochettino employed three principles: always have at least one man spare when building up from the back, play many vertical balls, rather than just side-to-side possession when building up from the back or through the middle and an identical shape (to Bielsa’s preferred formation) in the final third, comprising of an attacking midfielder and three players ahead of him (un enganche y tres punta).
Southampton’s 67% possession is by no means a product of having better players alone, the positional systems that both Bielsa and Pochettino employ allow for overloads in advanced areas – resulting in the opposition playing a deeper defensive block. While the four moments discussed in this article are intriguing, it was the fifth moment of the game (set pieces) that produced both the goals in the match.
Like Bielsa, Pochettino isn’t afraid to set his team up for the crossing game because he knows he can get players in the box through his positional system. Against Sunderland, Southampton made 27 crosses and had a high 37% cross completion rate for the high number of crosses (a 25% cross completion rate is generally considered to be good – Ward-Prowse put in 7 accurate crosses from 14 attempts, mostly in the first-half). Southampton also played 56 accurate long passes (from the 77 attempted) in the game which showed that Pochettino’s approach to vertical passes is different from other possession-based teams in the league; Arsenal, for example, only made 37 accurate long passes (from 54 attempts) against Fulham on the same day of Premier League action – in fact, no other team in these first two weeks of the Premier League has played more long balls than Southampton against Sunderland, apart from, Southampton themselves, against West Brom in their opening fixture; in that game, they attempted 83 long passes. These aren’t long balls pumped up field, they’re Bielsa inspired vertical passes, or “fast transitional passes” which statistically have been recognised as long passes.
Mauricio Pochettino has certainly been inspired by the genius of Bielsa and the half time changes show that like Bielsa, Southampton’s manager isn’t afraid to experiment and try new things. The total fluid positional inter-exchanges between the front four is certainly unique to the Premier League at the moment and I can’t remember the last time I had so much trouble trying to figure out who was playing where in the final third! Lambert dropped deep, picked up the ball out wide on both flanks and played as a central figurehead in the front four – as did all four other players.
There is no doubt about it, Mauricio Pochettino has been influenced by all aspects of Marcelo Bielsa’s philosophy of play – far beyond just the pressing approach. We may never see Marcelo Bielsa in the Premier League, so it’s about time we all started to enjoy the closest thing we will get to him: Mauricio Pochettino. REFERENCESGareth Richards’ quote from a personal interview for my upcoming book. Richards is a former Chester Football Club Development Manager who was invited to spend some time to study Barcelona’s La Masia as well as spending some time at Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Espanyol.