Picking a Tottenham side for Upton Park 4

Truthfully, it will probably be some time before we see Mauricio Pochettino’s full influence on Tottenham, because tactical structure develops as much out of habit and familiarity as it does instruction.

Pre-season has, however, been an alluring reveal, and there are already signs as to the intentions of Pochettino and the style and pace of play that he will be trying to implement.  Quick, ambitious distribution from the midfield, inter-changeable attacking components roaming with far more freedom than in either of the previous two seasons…Spurs are in a mini recovery phase at the moment and their aspirations probably stop short of the top-four, but 2014/15 does at least promise to both bring some watchable football.

You never know, this might be fun - here’s a projected line-up for Upton Park:

 

- As always, these Tottenham players need to understand what this game means to West Ham and their supporters.  To call it a ‘cup final’ is unnecessarily patronising, but it is one of the fixtures that gets circled on their calendar and, as such, the effort and energy on the pitch is always more pronounced and the intensity in the stadium itself is always that much more oppressive.

When Spurs last visited Upton Park they failed to match their hosts at a basic level and their attitude and application were an embarrassment to the club.  That can’t happen again.  Before tactics or structure or philosophy, Pochettino’s first job is to ensure the mental approach to this game is as it should be.

- Lewis Holtby.  Neither Mousa Dembele nor Paulinho seem likely to be included tomorrow, so Holtby - even in that unfamiliar position - would provide the right kind of midfield balance.  Whenever he’s used in non-advanced positions, he has a tendency of struggling tactically: his defensive discipline is not great and he can chase the ball rather haphazardly. Regardless, his inclusion is on the basis of his distribution and on his ability to move the ball accurately and quickly into attacking areas - and that’s really what Pochettino’s offensive ambitions will be built around.

Holtby isn’t a perfect option, but he suits the purpose tomorrow.

- Is Roberto Soldado’s confidence fragile?  Yes.  Is he likely to miss chances if picked tomorrow?  Probably.  It’s not really the point, though: he is the better-fit for this system.  Emmanuel Adebayor is an incredibly powerful and talented forward, but his trait of dwelling on the ball and slowing down the attacking play is an obstacle to the fluidity and pace which the forward unit will be aiming to utilise.  Players like Erik Lamela and Aaron Lennon thrive on being in isolation with individual defenders, and Soldado’s cultured link-play is far more likely to create those kind of situations.

- Jan Vertonghen cannot possibly be fully-fit, as he hasn’t appeared in a single pre-season game, but without him the defence will look hopelessly weak.  Eric Dier cannot just be thrown into a Premier League environment, Michael Dawson is…Michael Dawson, and Vlad Chiriches is still an injury doubt.

- Kyle Walker is supposedly unavailable tomorrow, so Kyle Naughton starts at right-back.

- Aaron Lennon is on borrowed time at Tottenham, but maybe Pochettino is the right manager at the right moment for him.  As a pure right-winger, Lennon had become stale at White Hart Lane and has spent the last four years failing to add anything to his game beyond the ability to take on full-backs.  Maybe Pochettino can change that?  Pre-season has seen Lennon occupying more central areas and becoming far more involved with the building phases of the attacking play.  His pace and dynamism has always been a theoretical asset in the middle of the pitch, and if he can learn to drift in-field effectively and interact with Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela and whichever forward Pochettino ultimately ends up favouring, then this could be the start of a reinvention.

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