ACID TESTS FOR BOSSES
Pochettino, Klopp under pressure to deliver
UNDER pressure to turn tantalising potential into tangible prizes, Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino and Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp face the acid test of their talents this season.
Despite being feted as teams on the rise, Tottenham and Liverpool have yet to win a single trophy under their current managers.
Pochettino has been in charge at Tottenham since 2014, while Klopp is in his third season with Liverpool, making the forthcoming campaign a watershed moment for both bosses.
After finishing third in the English Premier League in 2015 and second last season, Tottenham suddenly find themselves in danger of being stuck in reverse at a time when they should be putting their foot on the gas.
Pochettino has assembled a group capable of beating any side in the country on their day.
But the 45-year-old Argentine and his players have come up short two years in a row as the pressure of the title race proved too much for them.
Last season, they had Chelsea in their sights in the closing weeks before an FA Cup semifinal loss to the Blues triggered a stumble that saw them finish seven points behind the champions.
Making up a deficit of that order won’t be easy this season as Tottenham have the thorny issue of playing their home games at Wembley while White Hart Lane is being redeveloped.
Wembley wasn’t a welcoming arena for Tottenham when they played their European fixtures there last season, prompting claims that the high tempo pressing game Pochettino prefers was ill suited to the English national stadium’s large pitch.
Adding to Pochettino’s discomfort, he has so far gone through the summer transfer window without making a single signing.
While Tottenham’s title rivals have shattered records with their lavish spending, Pochettino heads into the new campaign with a weaker squad than last year after selling England rightback Kyle Walker to Manchester City.
“We are working, trying to add some players to the squad,” he said. “Our idea was, the same as before, to try to provide the team with more strength and try to sign a few players before the end of the transfer window.”
At Anfield, Klopp has spent the summer trying to close the gap on Tottenham and the rest of the Premier League’s big guns with only limited success.
The German splashed out a club record £43.9 million (RM245 million) on Roma winger Mohamed Salah and added Hull defender Andrew Robertson to the mix.
But Robertson is unlikely to be a game changer, while Salah’s last taste of the Premier League with Chelsea was utterly forgettable.
Klopp has also failed to land Southampton defender Virgil Van Dijk and Leipzig midfielder Naby Keita, while having to fend off Barcelona’s attempts to sign Reds playmaker Philippe Coutinho.
Barcelona’s pursuit of Coutinho was stepped up yesterday when club directors arrived in England in an attempt to close the deal so the player can make his debut against Real Madrid on Sunday.
Oscar Grau, Raul Sanllehi and Javier Bordas hope to return to Barcelona with the deal done and believe they are now pushing against an open door with Liverpool having accepted that Coutinho wants to leave.
Barcelona had an opening offer for £72 million turned down two weeks ago by Liverpool and a second offer closer to £80 million also failed to convince.
After finishing fourth last season, Liverpool need to rebuff the perception they took advantage of down years from Arsenal and Manchester United.
Having enjoyed unprecedented success with Borussia Dortmund, Klopp has proved he can beat the odds before, but winning Liverpool’s first title since 1990 would be the 50-year-old’s finest achievement.
Meanwhile, Van Dijk has accused Southampton of deliberately playing games with his future as he handed in a transfer request to force through a move.
The Holland international’s future has been a major theme of the summer window and the situation has now exploded in acrimony as Van Dijk urged Southampton to let quit the South Coast, with Liverpool his preferred destination.
Liverpool, however, are not the only club who want him; Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal all huge admirers of the central defender and will rival them if Southampton are prepared to do business.
Van Dijk said: “It is with regret that I can confirm I have today handed in a transfer request to leave Southampton Football Club.
“Unfortunately I feel I have no alternative after I was given notice of the Club’s intention to impose a disciplinary sanction against me of a fine equivalent to 2 weeks wages.
“I will be appealing what I feel to be an unjustified sanction and their inability to follow the correct disciplinary protocol in due course.
“I have consistently relayed my feelings to senior management at Southampton in what I believed to be private and personal conversations. Disappointingly, these conversations have regularly found their way into the media.
“I have been left frustrated by the club's position that I am not for sale and am disappointed that enquiries from multiple top clubs have been consistently rebuffed.”