Monday, 15 April 2013

The Pochettino effect

Southampton have had a roller-coaster first season back in the Premier League, the Saints supporters have witnessed stacks of good performances which have kept them optimistic throughout the campaign, but a lack of positive results towards the end of 2012 saw popular manager Nigel Adkins sacked in the new year.

Mauricio Pochettino
More recently, Southampton have found a patch of form under their new Argentine manager Mauricio Pochettino, who has beaten Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea since joining the club. The players look more composed and seem to have found a new self-belief within themselves as they have adopted the new high-tempo, pressing style of play.

The main concern for Southampton fans this season has been their defence, goals were being leaked endlessly at the beginning of the season when Arsenal put six past Adkins' side at the Emirates, they were also thrashed by West Ham at Upton Park, and more latterly, Chelsea in the FA Cup.

However, since Pochettino has been at the helm, the Southampton back four have looked considerably more stable. The two centre-halfs (Jos Hooiveld and Maya Yoshida) have dramatically improved considering the pair conceded goals for fun before the Argentine's arrival. People should recall that these two defenders were being inconsistently chosen for the starting 11 under Adkins, something Pochettino has changed. Jose Fonte was the more favoured centre-back under Adkins, but after picking up an injury during the 5-1 defeat to Chelsea, the Portuguese defender has found it difficult breaking back into the defence.

Hooiveld and Yoshida have become one of the most composed and reliable defensive partners in the Premier League recently. The pair conceded just one goal in each game against top teams like Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea. Admittedly, they were unable to keep clean sheets, but those three sides have some of the best strikers in the world who have played in major competitions.

As the season draws to an end, teams in the relegation battle must be tight defensively as goal-difference becomes more of an issue, one of the many things Southampton have made sure of since the arrival of Pochettino and co.

When Adkins was sacked by Nicola Cortese, Saints were dangerously sitting three points above the relegation zone in 15th, now, under Pochettino and with confidence running through the whole team, the Saints are considered safe from the relegation battle by some due to their fine form and recent results. The 'magic 40 points' are commonly known to be enough to keep any team in the Premier League for another season and Saints are just two points away from that barrier.

Jay Rodriguez is another player who has improved his performances since Pochettino's arrival, the promising forward has looked more comfortable playing upfront with Rickie Lambert, running at opposing players and using his pace as a primary strength.

New signing Vegard Forren is yet to even be considered as an option for the starting 11 as Hooiveld and Yoshida are continuing to impress at the back, in front of Artur Boruc, who has also found some self-belief and confidence between the sticks.

Southampton fans can expect to wait a little longer yet until they see Forren in action, but there will be bantam complaints as Pochettino proceeds to inject his players with confidence and sharpness. A mid-table finish could attract more world-class players to the club during the summer, especially with coup signing Gaston Ramirez at St Mary's.