"We have sold Elvis and bought the Beatles!" exclaimed former Tottenham goalkeeper Erik Thorstvedt during an on-pitch half-time interview in Spurs' 3-0 Europa League win over Tromsø last September. Excitement levels were high on the back of a busy summer, only for the team to fail to match expectations. Fast forward to May 2014 and Tim Sherwood, having succeeded Portuguese André Villas-Boas at White Hart Lane, was relieved of his duties.
The sale of Gareth Bale for a world record £86 million prompted the acquisition of Spurs' 'Magnificent Seven' and had supporters confident that they could finally establish themselves as Champions League regulars. However, after finishing outside the top 4 again last season, the club approaches the upcoming campaign with a fresh face at the helm, this time in the form of Mauricio Pochettino.
The Argentine worked wonders at Southampton and the performances of the south coast club prompted Daniel Levy to appoint Pochettino as manager in north London. A 5-year deal suggests Levy is going to allow him to mould the squad in his image and having had sufficient time to assess the personnel at his disposal, Pochettino appears to have identified the targets needed to turn Spurs from perennial underachievers into top-4 regulars.
Ben Davies, Michel Vorm and Eric Dier have all signed on the dotted line, while Hugo Lloris and Danny Rose have both agreed contract extensions in north London, with centre-back Jan Vertonghen expected to follow suit. Morgan Schneiderlin and Mateo Musacchio have also been earmarked as targets as Pochettino looks to improve Spurs' defence, an area that desperately required investment.
Spurs conceded the most goals (51) of the teams to finish in the top-8 in the Premier League last season, while the number of errors committed that resulted in an opposition goal (21) was the most in Europe's top 5 leagues. They need to tighten up at the back and it comes as little shock that a former defender sees this area as the priority.
Davies' transfer was seen as an astute piece of business for the Lilywhites, strengthening an area that had needed bolstering for some time. When fit, Rose was unchallenged as starting left-back under Villas-Boas and Sherwood, though a toe injury hindered his development. The arrival of Davies will not only provide much-needed competition in this position, but more importantly allows Vertonghen to regularly play in his favoured centre-back role. The Belgian voiced his discontent at having to play at left-back in the absence of Rose, but the options available to Pochettino means Vertonghen is unlikely to feature at full-back again.
The former Swansea left-back may not be a household name off British shores, but he can realise his potential under the guideance of Pochettino. The Spurs boss turned Luke Shaw into the most expensive teenager in world football and can help Davies grow as a player, too. The 21-year-old was dribbled past the most times of all defenders (54) in England's top tier last season, so Davies is very much a diamond in the rough, but having made more tackles and interceptions combined (139) than any Spurs player last term, the young left-back is clearly a very capable defender that Pochettino can improve.
Vorm, having proven his credentials for Swansea in the last 3 Premier League seasons, is a sturdy backup for Lloris and a better stand-in than the vastly experienced Brad Friedel, while Dier is highly revered by those who know him in Portugual. Well built, strong in the air and quick, the former Sporting Lisbon defender has the right attributes to make a name for himself at White Hart Lane under the watchful eye of his new manager.
The trio may not be the most glamourous names in world football, but are certainly welcome additions in north London. Lately, though, attention has turned to Schneiderlin and, more recently, Musacchio. Pochettino and Schneiderlin know one another from their time together at St. Mary's and the Spurs boss is credited with helping the Frenchman develop into the player he is today.
Schneiderlin has made more tackles and interceptions combined (466) than any other player in the last 2 Premier League seasons and would bring aggression and belligerence to the midfield, provided Spurs can convince Saints to sell. Musacchio, however, is the player that has excited supporters most. Dier, despite his performances in the Primeira Liga, is not quite ready to start under Pochettino, so it's essential Spurs bring in a more experienced head to match the manager's style of play.
Villarreal head coach Marcelino "expects" Musacchio to depart for London sooner rather than later and Levy will, once again, be hoping Pochettino can work his magic with another young centre-back having more than doubled Dejan Lovren's value in a little over a year. The Croat moved to Liverpool last month for a fee of around £20 million and his performances during his short stay on the south coast will give Spurs fans hope that he Pochettino can uncover another gem in Musacchio.
Musacchio made more interceptions (108) than any other player in La Liga last season and is more than capable of stepping out of the backline in order to limit the opposition's goalscoring chances. His reading of the game is impressive for a player his age and his approach will suit Pochettino's high defensive line. The Spurs boss is likely to use a high-pressing game, similar to the one he implemented at St. Mary's, where the defenders move up the pitch as a unit to plug the space between themselves and the midfield. A defender who steps out of the backline and intercepts the ball with convinction is pivotal in this system and Pochettino clearly feels Younes Kaboul, Vlad Chiriches and Michael Dawson are not capable of adhering to his demands.
Of all players in La Liga last season, only Gabi (130) and Juanfran (125) won possession more times in the defensive third than Musacchio (124), so the 23-year-old centre-back is able to successfully break rank in order to rob the opposition of the ball, while holding onto possession in order to build offensive moves from the back. Only Bruno (59.5) attempted more passes per game than Musacchio (39.3) of all Villarreal players last season, while the defender's style of play will certainly appeal to Pochettino. The 2-time capped Argentina international is an effective performer with the ball at his feet, which will be a welcome relief to those who, for too long now, have witnessed Spurs sacrifice possession as a result of a Michael Dawson long ball.
Saints averaged the most possession (58.6%) in the Premier League last season and their ability to instigate attacks from the back is what won Pochettino so many admirers. Pochettino's approach means defenders are key to beginning offensive moves from their own half, often bringing the ball forward before passing to the creative midfielders.
Musacchio will be crucial to this under Pochettino, especially if Spurs manage to wrangle Schneiderlin away from Saints' grasp. There are concerns surrounding his pace and hopeful punts up field could see the 23-year-old defender caught out, but Lloris' 'sweeper-keeper' approach means this form of attack is unlikely to pose too much of a threat.
Spurs may not be throwing the money around like they did last summer, but they are solidifying key areas, while trimming the fat off a squad that needed to be cut down. Davies and Dier are solid signings that will improve under Pochettino, while some see Musacchio as the perfect defensive partner for Vertonghen. The north London side have spent wisely so far as the new boss strives to improve them defensively and the players brought in seem to adequately match the needs of the Argentine.
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