Mauricio Pochettino makes his long-awaited return to St. Mary's on Saturday in what is sure to be a hostile atmosphere after departing Southampton last summer. Many Saints fans point to Pochettino as the main factor in disrupting the Southampton dressing room and was the main instigator in last summer's exodus of players.
We speak to die-hard Tottenham fan Jack Lawrence about how he feels Mo Po has got on in his first season in charge of Spurs and more.
St. Mary's Musings: What were your expectations before the season started and have Spurs lived up to them?
Jack Lawrence: Before the season started I didn't have particularly high expectations. The recent history of the manager merry-go-round and failed transfer windows, mixed with consistently falling short of the Champions League spots, had become to much. This was the first season in a while where I didn't think top four was likely or even reasonable prior to the start. Looking at the teams we'd have to finish above, I just didn't think it was fair to assume we'd deserve to finish above them. <!-- ######## START FLOATED VIDEO SNIPPET ######## -->
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Top four, obviously remained the hope, but it wasn't the barometer for success it had been previously. Given this, the season has been much as I expected. If anything I'm happier than I expected to be. We beat Chelsea on New Year's Day and Arsenal shortly after. Both matches, alongside a very good League Cup run to Wembley, will remain highlights in my memory for years to come and things that made parts of the season very enjoyable.
The emergence of Harry Kane, as well as players like Ryan Mason, Nabil Bentaleb and the much improved Danny Rose have meant the season has felt more productive than our likely final position would suggest. Finally, it appears we're actually progressing. The final league position will likely suggest history looks back at this season as fairly average, but the smaller details listed above have been extremely pleasing to observe.
SMM: Are Spurs still in with a shout of finishing in the top four?
JL: We're seven points behind city with five games to go. Granted their form has been poor and we have them to play at the Lane, but I can't see it happening. Ignoring the fact that we'd need some favours from Liverpool's and City's remaining opponents, we'd likely have to win all of our remaining games to overtake them. I don't think we've put a string of 3 wins together this season, let alone five. It won't happen, but we should except that was the case and not get the pitch forks out yet again.
SMM: What have you made of Mauricio Pochettino's first season in charge at Spurs?
JL: I'm still not certain on Pochettino. A few times this season his decisions have confused me. The decision to play a weakened team in the home leg against Fiorentina was strange, given we could have played a strong team at home to build a lead before trying to see it out at there's on the week before our Wembley trip. I also fail to see what he sees in Paulinho. However, at this point I would just like to see us stick with a manager for a few years and let them build a team and 'philosophy' (whatever that means) over a number of transfer windows. We've been severely restricted in recent times by not seeing out a plan. Regardless of Pochettino's immediate success, we just need to stick it out now and see what happens.
SMM: What do you and other Spurs fans think of Saints as a club? Are we now direct league rivals?
JL: I'm slightly biased as I've grown up close to Southampton and had season tickets at St. Mary's at various times (while always declaring myself as a Spurs fan) so my opinion of Saints may not be reflective of other Spurs fans.
However, I think Saints should proudly consider themselves league rivals to Spurs, at least right now. If Chelsea, Arsenal, United and City make up that top four elite, then surely Saints deserve a position alongside us and Liverpool as the chasers, hopeful and naive.
I look favourably upon Saints, their style of play and their set up, particularly their academy and the players they've produced in recent years. Of course, next season may be interesting if Saints get Europa League football. There are a number of teams I've felt have closed in on recent years but then suffered and fallen away due to the strains of the Europa League (Newcastle, Swansea, Everton, etc). I suspect Saints have struggled from a lack of depth this season, and that's only going to be intensified next season if they have regular Thursday night commitments. I'd love to be proven wrong though but until then it's hard to cement them as a rival for the long term.
SMM: Harry Kane: one season wonder or the next England star?
JL: I'm a big Harry Kane fan. However, I'm not a fan of the 'next England star' label we staple to young players these days. He's an incredibly bright prospect and has had a phenomenal season. I hope he continues to develop but the moment we start pinning our hopes to him is the moment things become less enjoyable. That's not to suggest we be cynical about his chances of continuous development, just, let's enjoy it as it happens. It's a wonderful fairytale come true for him.
There's an electric feeling of excitement around White Hart Lane whenever he gets the ball where it feels as if anything could happen. That feeling's been absent since Gareth Bale left. Let's just enjoy that for now. (He types into a phone with a Harry Kane background, whilst wearing Harry Kane pyjamas, sat in bed beneath an A0 Harry Kane poster - He's going to win the World Cup for us!)
SMM: What is your favourite Spurs chant past or present?
JL: The greatest moments of the season have been goals Harry has scored for us. Particularly at home against Arsenal and Chelsea. With that said, it's only natural that the "He's one of our own" chant is the most enjoyable chant of the season. It was also nice to see Ryan Mason on the receiving end of the chant after his debut league goal against Swansea. The other academy graduate to progress to regular in the first team this season.
SMM: If you could sell any member of Spurs' regular starting XI, who would it be and why?
JL: If I could sell any player it would be Adebayor. Simply to be rid of his (reported) astronomical wages. On a less boring note, it would be Paulinho. I'm yet to see what he brings to the squad, or what is role in the starting XI is? Similarly, is there a more infuriating sight in football than a midfielder pulling out of a 50:50? I've seen him do so on numerous times in positions where this mistake has led to us conceding (see Newcastle last season).
SMM: If you could sign any Saints player, who would it be and why?
JL: I'd sign Morgan Schneiderlin, if only to put Saints fans out of the misery of constant transfer speculation.
SMM: Finally, how do you see the match going?
JL: Prediction for the match: 2-1 Spurs. For no insightful reason. We just tend to win 2-1 fairly frequently.