Despite presiding over a 3-1 win against Aston Villa in Tottenham’s opening game of the new season, Mauricio Pochettino admitted that Spurs were not at their best against their newly promoted opponents.
Spurs struggled in the first half, going behind to a well taken goal from Villa midfielder John McGinn. Open defensively, easily bypassed in the midfield and failing to spark in attack, the hosts went in 1-0 down at the break.
Pochettino brought on Christian Eriksen for Harry Winks not long after the restart and the rhythm of the game began to change, Spurs getting a better grip on possession and carving out much more dangerous chances. They eventually won 3-1 thanks to a rocket from Tanguy Ndombele and a late brace for Harry Kane.
“I think it was a difficult first half,” Pochettino said afterwards. “We start well but we concede in a defensive action as they approach our goal. I think after that we didn’t find a way to play in the way that we wanted to play. We prepare and always this is the fault of the manager. My plan didn’t work.
“We were a little bit taking rash decisions, we weren’t comfortable on the pitch. Of course the first 45 minutes wasn’t the best. But in the second half, when we find the best positions [in which] to play and started to move the ball quick we started to create a lot of chances.
“It was difficult because they defend very deep, very close and narrow and compact, but I think when you assess the game again the victory was good for us and fully deserved after 90 minutes.”
Eriksen the difference?
Asked whether Spurs were too predictable before the introduction of Eriksen, Pochettino was circumspect. “I agree that we were a little bit predictable in the first half,” he said. “Of course, when Christian goes onto the pitch it adds more threat, he was fresh and of course he adds his quality. He is a top player and he helped the team to win.”
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Eriksen has been the subject of transfer speculation all summer and, with the signing of Giovani Lo Celso, Spurs appear to be prepared for life without him. With the transfer window still open across much of Europe, he could still move on before the end of the month.
Pochettino seemed to suggest that he had initially kept Eriksen on the bench because he is still coming back to peak fitness, as opposed to anything more significant. “It happens [sometimes] that you have a player that maybe cannot play 90 minutes, but he’s on the bench and he has this quality that can help you to achieve the victory,” he said.