Will Pochettino's aggressive approach pay off at Liverpool this time?

Spurs must improve terrible away record against top sides to win title, says Mauricio Pochettino
Spurs must improve terrible away record against top sides to win title, says Mauricio Pochettino

Tottenham supporters should theoretically be feeling confident ahead of Sunday’s trip to Anfield, having just witnessed a highly impressive dissection of a star-studded Manchester United side at Wembley on Wednesday.

However, Spurs fans are used to seeing their team beat the best on home turf and then lose away against their top-six rivals.

Last term Mauricio Pochettino’s side ended Manchester City’s perfect start to the Premier League campaign under Pep Guardiola, triumphing 2-0 at White Hart Lane.

They went on to repeat the feat against leaders Chelsea – who ultimately won the title – in north London, before also overcoming Arsenal and Manchester United in N17.

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This term, after a slow start to life at Wembley, Spurs have beaten Borussia Dortmund, Liverpool, Real Madrid and United in front of their own fans, scoring 12 goals in the process.

Yet the Lilywhites consistently struggle when they visit their biggest domestic foes.

Since Pochettino took charge, they have won just one of their 18 trips to the two Manchester teams, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, while losing 11 times.

Spurs may have secured a 1-1 draw at the Bernabeu and triumphed in Dortmund in the Champions League this season, but domestically the problem shows little sign of improving – they have visited the Emirates, Old Trafford and the Etihad since August and lost all three matches, by an aggregate score of 7-1.

“That is why maybe we miss a title, why we don’t win the Premier League,” said Pochettino. “If you take out home or away, I think in the last two and a half seasons we are second [in the table for head-to-head matches between the top six]. We have won more games than all the others, except I think Liverpool.
“Why do we struggle to win away? Maybe it’s because we are a young team in the Premier League. Maybe we need time to mature. There are many reasons why this happens – why we cannot win most of the games that we play away from home.

“I heard earlier that, in 19 games between the top six this season, there have been only four victories for the away teams.
“For everyone, it’s a problem. But I don’t like this stat. We can talk and present it like this and that, if you only want to see the negative or only the positive. I don’t like to argue about that. In the end it’s how you finish in the table.

“We finished second last season, third the season before. If it was the case [that we]
win more games away from home, I’m sure that we would win the title, but we miss something to achieve that.”

When it comes to isolating the issue, Pochettino should perhaps look in the mirror and consider his own approach to these particularly challenging away days.

The aggressive, high-pressing style he has implemented at Tottenham has undoubtedly been successful overall, and the benefits were there for all to see against United in midweek.

However, the Argentinian’s insistence on employing the same approach when his side visits the toughest grounds can play into his opponents’ hands and leave his players overly exposed.

December’s trip to Man City was a perfect example. Spurs sought to press and attack a better team on their own field, and they were punished.

Tottenham’s last trip to Anfield was also a case in point. Stubbornly adopting a high defensive line as usual, the visitors gave Sadio Mane space to run into behind them, and he duly scored twice in the opening 18 minutes.
The good news is that Pochettino feels his new signing Lucas Moura could potentially give Tottenham a Mane-like threat of their own in future – “that is his characteristics,” said the manager. “But now he needs to prove it in England.

“He has proved it in Brazil and France. That was the idea – that was the characteristic we wanted to add to the squad.”

The bad news is that Lucas is unlikely to face Liverpool this weekend, that the Reds now have Mohamed Salah too, and that Pochettino has suggested he will stay true to his ideals once again and attempt to replicate Wednesday’s swash-buckling triumph over United.

If he succeeds he will deserve credit for his bravery, and his unyielding commitment to his philosophy will seem justified, for a while at least.

But his record in these fixtures is against him and, if he fails again, his refusal to be pragmatic and adapt his plans for his surroundings will only seem more frustrating.

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