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08th May 2019

Tottenham’s comeback showed Pochettino’s willingness to opt for pragmatism over philosophy

Tottenham's spectacular comeback against Ajax was not a result of being wedded to a philosophy, but Pochettino's pragmatism

Reuben Pinder

Sometimes, you have to chuck it in the mixer

For the next few weeks, months and possible years, football fans and pundits will attempt to explain how Tottenham managed to come back from three goals down against an Ajax side who had swatted both Real Madrid and Juventus aside on their road to the final four.

People will talk of heart, passion and determination, all of which played a part, especially as the clock ticked down and fans began to accept that it wasn’t their day. But then it was.

Lucas Moura will steal most of the headlines and understandably so after his second half hat-trick took Tottenham to their first ever Champions League final. And while Lucas deserves all the praise he will get after his heroic performance, there was a lot more at play.

While Liverpool achieved the unthinkable by staying true to their ideals on Tuesday night, Tottenham did the opposite. That is not to say that Pochettino completely abandoned his principles – they comprise more than how his teams play out from the back – but the Argentine demonstrated the tactical flexibility that has allowed him to take Spurs to the level they are at on a comparatively pitiful budget.

The turning point in the game was the introduction of Fernando Llorente for Victor Wanyama. A player who was only signed out of necessity, as someone who wouldn’t mind sitting on the bench behind Harry Kane after Vincent Janssen failed to fulfil that role and was shipped off to Turkey. A player who, for much of this time at Spurs has been a punchline. The gangly giant who sticks out like a sore thumb among a youthful, energetic squad of silky passers.

His introduction added a new dynamic to the game. After a half of fruitless passages of play into the channels, unable to suffocate Ajax with their press, Spurs went for plan B. And it worked.

For all of Llorente’s flaws, he is a focal point, and when you need to claw your way back into a tie, there are few things better than an effective target man. The Spaniard’s physical presence allowed Spurs to gain territory on Ajax and ultimately turned the match in their favour.

This display of pragmatism from Pochettino is what makes him unique among the world’s top coaches. He is not wedded to a particular way of playing, or a particular formation, but a set of principles.

Not to be one of the Proper Football Men, but sometimes, you just have to chuck it in the mixer.