English Premiership

Pochettino fights to maintain Spurs' progress

Mauricio Pochettino (Getty Images)
Mauricio Pochettino (Getty Images)

London - When Jose Mourinho was sacked in December, it seemed Mauricio Pochettino would have to quickly get used to dealing with never-ending queries about the possibility of him moving to Manchester United, not least from the Old Trafford hierarchy themselves.

Pochettino's Tottenham team were growing stronger by the week and had just qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League on the back of an outstanding draw in Barcelona.

The Argentine was in demand and found himself installed as the bookmakers' favourite to succeed Mourinho as United boss.

Three months on, and the landscape for the manager and his club has changed ahead of Saturday's Premier League clash with struggling Southampton.

Tottenham will head to St Mary's having once again demonstrated their strength in Europe with Tuesday's 1-0 victory at Borussia Dortmund completing a 4-0 aggregate win that means the north London club have reached the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 2011.

Their domestic form, however, has been considerably less impressive.

The powers of recovery that maintained their winning streak when Tottenham overcame the absence of key players, including Harry Kane, Son Heung-Min and Dele Alli, have deserted them recently.

Pochettino's men are without a win in their last three league games, having drawn with Arsenal after successive defeats at Burnley and Chelsea.

That dispiriting run has transformed their status from title challengers to a side battling to fend off rivals for a top-four finish.

Pochettino's future, meanwhile, looks less likely to include a close-season move to United.

Focus shifted

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's claims to be United's next permanent manager are strengthening with every game of the Norwegian's spell as interim boss.

After Wednesday's heroics at the Parc des Princes, when United became the first side to overturn a 2-0 home leg deficit and progress in the Champions League, it seems almost certain Solskjaer will be given the opportunity to continue beyond the end of the season.

Solskjaer's efforts are casting a dark shadow over Mourinho's work at the club, but the Portuguese's dismal recent record does not appear to have prevented him being linked with a return to Real Madrid, another of Pochettino's long-term suitors.

The focus, then, has shifted from the options potentially available to Pochettino should he decide he has taken third-placed Tottenham as far as he can.

The more immediate concern is Pochettino's attempt to restore momentum to his side's Premier League campaign.

Pochettino has repeatedly pointed out that Tottenham's achievements this season should be put in context.

They have not signed a player in the last two transfer windows, while at the same time playing at Wembley, their temporary home while the redevelopment of White Hart Lane drags on months past its expected completion.

It is his success in maintaining Tottenham's progress that has strengthened Pochettino's reputation.

He has also demonstrated commendable loyalty to the club by refusing to make an issue of the lack of transfer activity.

With Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea all showing improved form in the fight for third and fourth, his challenge is now to ensure the good work of the last few months does not go to waste.

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