Ever since Wednesday, pundits and fans in the football world have been dissecting and analysing Mauricio Pochettino’s new 3-4-2-1 set-up which worked to such great effect against Hull City. The inclusion of a three-man defence gave full-backs Kyle Walker and Danny Rose licence to roam up the pitch in support of the attack, and according to a report in the London Evening Standard, Pochettino’s players are pleased with the fresh attacking dimension that this provides them.
They were dominant from the off against a struggling Hull team, with Walker and Rose getting right up the pitch, registering an assist each and ensuring that clear-cut chances on the night were at a premium.
It was the second time Spurs had used a three-man defence this campaign, the first being in the 1-1 draw at Arsenal back in early November.
Despite Tottenham’s impressive home record in the Premier League, with six wins and two draws to their names on home turf, their weekly task at White Hart Lane is becoming increasingly familiar: to find a way to break down a team which sets men up behind the ball, has limited ambition going forward and attempts to stifle Spurs in the final third by packing out the midfield.
Even though Tottenham barely worked on the 3-4-2-1 formation in training before the Hull match, it came off to great effect, though against more attacking teams in the league it may yet be too much of a risk. He may persist with the system in their next match at home to Burnley however, with a ten day break following that fixture.
Danny Rose, one of the biggest individual beneficiaries of the new system, told the Daily Mail:
“We only knew that we’d be playing 3-4-2-1 when we went to the training ground about 5pm. We haven’t worked on it or anything so we’ve done well.”
The new formation could also prove a reinvigorating factor for Pochettino’s Spurs side, which according to England left-back Rose has only really gotten into ‘third gear’ so far, despite only losing once in the league.
“We haven’t hit the heights of last season in how we’ve been playing. It’s fair to say we’re probably still in third gear. Hopefully once the New Year comes we can push on.
“We had a good December and January last season and we’re looking to do that again. I have no idea why we haven’t played as well. We know that though and that’s a positive to take. We’re in the park still and we’re probably only playing 60 per cent.”
A pleasing aspect for Pochettino was the improvement in form of record-signing Moussa Sissoko in the last two matches. The former Newcastle player has had a testing start to his Tottenham career despite the good form he showed at Euro 2016 with his country, but he put in effective performances against Manchester United and Hull.
Sissoko is insistent that he was not hurt by previous criticism from his manager, who demanded that the player work harder in training, and told the London Evening Standard that he feels he is finding his feet at Tottenham at last.
“I needed to work on it a lot so I spoke with the manager and all the staff and we tried to work on things in training.
“I did well against Hull I think and I hope I can do more for the future.
“The training sessions were a big change for me because in my previous team things were totally different. I needed to understand [Pochettino’s] philosophy but now it is okay. I know what he wants, I know what to do and that is what I will do.
“In terms of finding things difficult when I arrived, I would say the intensity of the training and the style the manager wants us to play, among other things.
“It is difficult to say when I will reach my best form but it will happen.”
His start to life at White Hart Lane wasn’t helped by having his season disrupted with injury either, but he understood why Pochettino criticised him in such a manner, but that he is now firmly adapting into the new role.
“For me the manager said what he thinks,” Sissoko told Sky Sports. “For me it was the same, just to come into training and try to give my best. I know what I can do for the team. I know what is my level.
“I just needed some time to be ready on everything because it was a big change for me. Now I understand everything and everything is better for me and that’s good.”
The specific demands and the intensity of Pochettino’s pressing style of play has also taken time for Sissoko to adjust to.
“The intensity of the training has been particularly difficult. The style of how he wants us to play. A lot of things,” Sissoko said.
“What we do at the training. It was a lot of change. Every manager has his style of training so now I understand everything.
But of the players who relished Pochettino’s switch to the 3-4-2-1 formation, Sissoko was another who seemed to grow into the system more effectively, playing a little further inside behind Harry Kane.
“We played a different system so I was more inside,” Sissoko said. “That is what I like. But I can also play as a winger.
“The manager decided to change the system so it was good for me and for the team. We wanted to win the game and that was perfect.”
“Being a local lad, I always felt that pressure,” Nolan said.
“Ross, being the lad he is from Liverpool, for him to get out of the city and go to a club like Tottenham would be a great career move.”
“I’m very pleased for his performance today. He was very aggressive in possession. That is the aggressiveness that we want for our player and I’m very pleased for him.
“He is working very hard to improve and I know it is important for our strikers to score goals but also for our midfield to score as well. It is good for us and the team that they start to score too.”