You might excuse us for getting a bit nervous and scared every time a (key) player appears to get substituted early, without anything in their performance warranting the move, especially when it’s a player who’s had more than his fair share of injuries in recent seasons ... but you know, we’ve had a few gut-punches of late once again.
We’re talking about Reece James of course, who made way for Malo Gusto in the 75th minute, walking off slowly after getting a quizzical look from General Enzo of The Midfield as well. Thankfully Reece then proceeded to simply take a seat on the bench and showed no signs of trouble in the post-match on-pitch appreciations either.
Afterwards, head coach Mauricio Pochettino explained that just like Forrest Gump that one time in Utah, Reecey just felt a little tired.
“He was tired.
“You need to see from where he came. The first thing we did when we arrived was to assess and analyse all of the players from the past. He was injured for three or four months.
“This pre-season was tough for him, we didn’t want to take any risk and that is why at 80 minutes, we wanted to avoid the risk.”
Certainly sounds like a reasonable course of action. Plus, it gave some minutes to Malo Gusto, to get his debut nerves out of the way as well.
And James certainly put in some miles in this one, deployed as the marauding right wing-back and with much of our attacking play channeled through him. Pochettino surprised everyone with what looked like a back-three (3-5-2, at least on paper), after starting every preseason game with a set back-four (4-2-3-1). Poch however insisted afterwards that wasn’t exactly it, that it was much more fluid than that, with custom adjustments to account for Liverpool’s danger-men, most notably Mo Salah and Trent Alexander-Arnold.
We’re gonna need less simplistic tactical notations!
“Today [was] also back four, no? Looks like when one midfield drops to play in between the two centre-backs.
“When you build it’s three. Today we build with Disasi, Thiago Silva and Levi Colwill when in possession. If you see the second phase when we didn’t have the ball, it was Levi and Reece, back four with centre-backs Disasi and Thiago. If you have a drone and take a picture, depending on the time, maybe sometimes it is 14321, 135, I don’t know the numbers.
“I think it is two different phases that we tried today. In possession to play with three building from the back to midfielder then Reece and Chilly and using Raheem and Carney and Jackson. Then when we didn’t have the ball it’s back four, two midfield, Chilly would go inside because Trent was like a midfielder and of course, Carney No.10 and No.9 Nico.”
-Mauricio Pochettino; source: Football.London
And indeed, when you look at average player positions (which are based on on-the-ball actions only), it’s a clear back-three with Conor Gallagher shielding and the rest going forward.
But without the ball, Chilwell was rarely seen all the way back, since he usually followed Alexander-Arnold around. That left Levi Colwill isolated against Mo Salah, which is a tough task for anyone, but the young defender did alright in the end, getting better and better as the game went along (not much he could do with the assist; got a bit lucky on the VAR offside call). It was a risky plan in some ways, but also one that intended to put us on the front-foot as much as possible — which it certainly did, especially after the opening 20-25 minutes.
One might suspect we won’t see this exact gameplan next weekend against West Ham; but I’m sure Pochettino will have something tasty cooked up again.