The narrative surrounding Spurs seems to be that because Daniel Levy is perceived to be reluctant to sign players, they cannot evolve. But under Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham have used different formations each season they have played with the Argentinian in charge. During Pochettino’s first season he struggled to find the right players and the right system. It took a year and the signing of Alderweireld for his philosophy to be engrained in Tottenham’s play.
During the 2015-16 campaign Poch favoured his typical 4-2-3-1 formation which featured a high press, where attacks were started from the back by either having Mousa Dembélé dribble out from deep, or by using Toby Alderweireld’s long passing ability, as well as the fullbacks, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose, pushing up the field to provide width to a narrow attack. These have basically been Spurs’ tactics under Pochettino so far. They have survived the departure of Kyle Walker, injuries to key players, and the three-at-the-back Premier League revolution.
This season he has tried two formations: one reminiscent of England’s during this summer’s World Cup featuring three centre backs and the other, the more effective of the two, an unconventional 4-4-2 diamond. This diamond has so far been a new and exciting system for Spurs. It has been possible due to Lucas Moura’s success playing an expected role, something between a conventional right winger and a quick centre forward. The Brazilian has always been a winger who tends to start wide and drift towards the middle, and this new position he has crafted into the Tottenham eleven fits his style perfectly.
The new tactics were most prevalent during the second half of Monday night’s game against Manchester United. Mousa Dembélé made his first start of the season playing the deepest out of the three midfielders, Eric Dier played box-to-box on the right, and Dele Alli played almost like a left winger at times. The midfield was then supplemented by both Christian Eriksen dropping deep, and Harry Kane coming short for the ball, leaving Lucas up front on his own, with his pace keeping the United defenders on their toes.
Lucas was able to be unplayable at times as United’s defence couldn’t work out where he would pop up, until it was too late.
One thing Tottenham have always had under Pochettino is adaptability. The team can shift formations without making substitutions most of the time, and they are a group of players with more than one position each. Clearly the opening three games have showed Lucas Moura benefits from shifting between playing right wing and centre forward throughout matches. For 90 minutes against Manchester United he did this and it was the best individual performance of the season so far from any player in the league. What could cause concern for Spurs is facing teams that sit deeper, where Lucas’ pace will not be as deadly a weapon.
It will be interesting to see, as the season unfolds, how Pochettino approaches certain games tactically now Tottenham seem to have three proven systems: The 4-2-3-1, 3-4-3, and the new 4-4-2 diamond. At the moment, on paper, they are one of the most adaptable sides in the Premier League. Soon enough Tottenham can show if this means they can deal with more defensive teams, and of course the duo of Manchester City and Liverpool. However, if Lucas Moura continues playing the way his has done so far then Tottenham are in for a very promising season.