A game which had it’s moments but ultimately failed to deliver sees Southampton and Everton share the spoils. All of the pre-match discussion focused around Southampton and their decision to replace Nigel Adkins with Mauricio Pochettino meant the game itself went largely under the radar. And with both teams serving up a goalless draw, post match, the focus again switched to Pochettino.
For his first game in charge, Pochettino lined his new players up in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. Rodriguez and Davis dropped out to be replaced by Ramirez and Lambert.
Moyes made just one change to Everton after their home draw with Swansea. Naismith came back in on the right wing replacing Anichebe.
Miralles was on the bench for Everton as he continues his comeback from injury. Fellaini alternated between playing alongside Jelavic and dropping deeper to support the midfield as and when required.
Mauricio Pochettino. Who?
The decision by Southamption to sack Nigel Adkins with the team sitting 15th in the Premier League and on the back of an improved run of form which has seen them lose just twice in the previous twelve games was strange. The decision to replace him with Pochettino was however, far stranger. The immediate reaction of most fans would have been “Mauricio who?” given Pochettino’s one coaching job to date has been with Espanyol. The fact that he was sacked by los pericos in November whilst bottom of La Liga adds further weight to the belief that this is considerable error by Southampton and in particular, owner Cortese.
Upon hiring Pochettino, the statement from Southampton was gushing in its praise:-
[quote]Pochettino has earned a reputation as one of the most talented young coaches in European football thanks to an impressive spell in La Liga with Espanyol. The Argentine was widely linked with a future role at one of Spain’s top clubs, but having left Espanyol in November now joins Southampton to continue his top-flight managerial career[/quote]
If this seems slightly exaggerated for a man whose managerial career to date covers just Espanyol where his win percentage was just 33%, then it’s perhaps time to look beyond the results and see what Pochettino achieved during his tenure at the club. From 161 games across all competitions, Espanyol won just 53 games, drawing 38 and recording 70 defeats during his time in charge.
There are teams that wait for you and teams that look for you; Espanyol look for you. I feel very close to their style of football.
Pochettino insists on his team playing aggressively, holding a high defensive line, pushing up the pitch and pressing their opponents. It led to them conceding a high number of fouls in games. Suspensions could become a problem.
As Espanyol, Pochettino installed a tactical style on all sides from the first team down to the lowest youth team. At the top, the system is 4-2-3-1 with younger age groups moving towards 4-4-2. A key decision for Pochettino was making youth teams play in the age group above. It aids player development competitiveness and at a club where youth team players were being promoted to the first team squad frequently, it’s a necessary move. It also speaks volumes about the philosophy of the club:-
“We’re not interested in our youth teams winning games; we’re interested in them developing players for the first team.”
Pablo Osvaldo played under Pochettino before moving to AS Roma in Serie A:-
[quote]He makes you work like a dog. Sometimes, you feel like killing him but it works.[/quote]
Whilst I don’t consider the appointment of Pochettino as an error, it is a massive gamble at this stage of the season.
It’s easy to see why Pochettino is appealing. Is he a man for the longer term, to implement a vision at a club? Yes. If he a man for the short term battle to avoid relegation? That is the question to which Southampton fans will shortly get the answer.
It’s difficult to assess the impact that Pochettino has had in such a short space of time but there were signs that he has outlined the main parts of his philosophy to the players even if the execution remains wobbly at times.
Southampton dominated possession in the opening period, beginning the game with intensity and pace. It became clear early on that Southampton were pressing Everton high and preventing their defenders from having time on the ball, Lambert working hard to close opponents down.
The Saints also broke forward quickly during transitions in the 8th, 20th and 25th minute after winning the ball in midfield. It’s another facet of play that Pochettino will look to build upon and it provides the alternative to the slow, patient build up. When the opportunity presents itself, increase the tempo and take advantage.
The pressing needs to be accompanied with a high defensive line to squeeze opponents back into their own half of the pitch. As the half progressed, the offside trap became effective with Everton caught offside twice in quick succession in the 39th and 43rtd minute. On each occasions, Southampton forwards pressing forced a long ball from the Everton defence which caught Jelavic offside.
Everton were very poor in the opening period. Too many of their key players were not involved in the play and there was a general sluggishness about them. Passes were misplaced and the tempo of their game was too low enabling Southampton to get close to them and force errors. It was strange watching such a subdued performance form a side that is normally so energetic in their general play.
After a fairly slow start Everton, understandably and as expected, improved in the second half from around the 55th minute mark. Baines pushed higher up the pitch and linked better with Pienaar who gradually felt his way into the game.
The real boost to Everton was the introduction of Anichebe for the injured Coleman, a substitution that required a reshuffle in the team. Neville went to right back and Felliani dropped into central midfield with Anichebe joining Jelavic in attack. With better movement, Anichibe sought space into the channel between Yoshida and Clyne, twice breaking into this area and creating problems for Southampton with Boruc saving Anichebe’s shot on one occasion.
But it’s also true that Southampton’s pressing faded as the game wore on and fatigue set in. In the 78th minute Pochettino could be seen waving his players forward to push higher following a clearance. It’s one of his most recognisable traits. He is always prowling across the edge of the technical area and seldom sits down during games.
Despite Everton providing a better opponent in the second half, Southampton still retained more possession overall with 53%. Their pass accuracy of 76% was higher than Everton’s 70% and in the final third, the Saints were again more accurate with 67% pass completion compared with a lowly 56% from Everton.
With a point secured, Everton have now lost just three times in their past 32 league games, a run that stretches back to last season. Yet for long spells last night it appeared that Everton would be suffering their fourth loss. Seldom in recent times has an Everton team under Moyes looked so lethargic and ponderous. With a comparatively small squad, Everton need all their players to be fully fit as the season progresses. With five draws in their last ten games, Everton must turn some of these draws into victories if they harbour any ambition of securing fourth place. If they did so, it would surely be Moyes greatest success yet. Perform as they did last night however, and they may fail to even make the Europa League.
Confirmation of Everton’s poor performance comes with their pass completion rate being at 70%, their lowest total this season. Whilst this can be excused to a degree, the lack of competitiveness in the first half cannot. This was only the third time in the past 23 games that Everton have failed to score but it’s successive games with no goals. On the positive side, it’s also successive clean sheets.
A solid start to his Southampton career for the Argentinean. The Saints secure a valuable point, although they may consider it two points dropped given the balance of play, alongside their fourth clean sheet of the season. The real test arrives with the next six games which contains the proverbial relegation battle six pointers against Wigan, QPR, Norwich and Newcastle.
Lambert noted that:
[quote]We are already getting to grips with the manager’s ideas. He wants high pressure, a high tempo and it showed in the first half.[/quote]
How quickly Pochettino can learn English and communicate his ideas and beliefs with his team will be an essential component of the Saints battle to retain their Premiership status at the end of the season.
Moyes commented after the game that “a draw here is not a bad result” but in the race to secure the final champions League place, it possibly is a bad result. The rearranged game between Arsenal and West Ham now takes on a different complexion for the Toffees’. Their current four point cushion could be eroded substantially with an Arsenal win.