ACID TESTS FOR BOSSES

Po­chet­tino, Klopp un­der pres­sure to de­liver

New Straits Times - - Sport -

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.”

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