In our game against Southampton this afternoon, along with our next one against Swansea City, we will be facing the teams of the two most talented and admired young coaches in the Premiership, Mauricio Pochettino and Michael Laudrup.
Of course, English fans including those of Newcastle United are very familiar with Laudrup the coach now, who has guided the Premiership minnows of Swansea to their first ever major trophy final later today in only his first season at the club. However, some of you might be less familiar with Pochettino, and may well (with good reason) have been somewhat bemused by the sacking of his Southampton predecessor, Nigel Adkins. This is especially so as it came just when things seemed to be starting to go fairly well for the Saints under a very decent manager. However, despite a record with his previous club Espanyol which hardly seems earth shattering on a cursory inspection until you understand the context, there is an excitement being generated about the young coach at the very highest levels of the game. Guardiola is a fan, as is Rafa Benitez, and despite beating them 2-1, Alex Ferguson thought his Southampton side was the best he’d faced at Old Trafford all season.
If you are one of those who hadn’t heard of Pochettino before he joined the Saints, you might remember him vaguely from the 2002 World Cup when England beat Argentina 1-0 thanks to David Beckham’s “revenge” penalty against the Argies, the one where Michael Owen later confessed to cynically diving over Pochettino’s leg (see photo) to win the said spot kick. However that is not the subject of this piece as we have the rather pressing matter of a very important match against Pochettino the coach’s team this afternoon at St James’ Park, so let’s move on.
Tactically, Pochettino shares many similarities with his Argentianian coaching mentor, Marcelo “el loco” Bielsa, the mad scientist of Athletic Club in Bilbao. Hence we can expect an attempt by his Southampton side to press Newcastle United’s defence mercilessly in their owh half of the pitch. This could be said to be the very antithesis of Pardew’s approach many times this season, when Newcastle United would infuriatingly just sit back, cede the midfield and invite pressure, hoping to dispossess the opposition way back in their own half only to launch a long ball counterattack and lose it again. That will be the last thing we need this afternoon as we will almost certainly be punished (again) if we go down that road.
In his own words, the young master says of his tactics:
“Our style of play is to win back the ball as soon as possible and then play it. We moved forward our lines and play more up field. When we lose the ball we must have the mentality of winning it back as soon as possible.”
So unlike our own Silver Supremo, Pochettino is not a man for retreat, for constantly resetting and starting all over again from his own penalty area. However, besides the overall superiority of our players, there could well be something else on our side which might be exploited if the Saints are not at the peak of their game. Pochettino’s method requires great technique and discipline, something which can take time to achieve on a consistent basis, something which will be of particular relevance to a manager who will only be in his fifth game with the Saints. Although the Saints have got off to a good start under Pochettino’s leadership so far with a memorable win over Manchester City, as well as two draws and the abovementioned loss to manchester United, they could be brittle until they are a well oiled machine who are well used to Pochettino’s rather radical method. The discipline can still come unstuck, leaving yawning chasms of space behind what is invariably a very high defensive line which can be exploited if Pardew plays his cards right.
Here’s hoping anyway!