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Why Pochettino has to manage fans' great expectations
COME on, then, hands up.
If told back in early August that Saints would be ninth in the Premier League going into Christmas Day, how many of you would have been unhappy with that news?
Bearing in mind that last Christmas, Saints didn’t give you their heart only to take it away the very next day, they went into December 25 fourth bottom and very much involved in the relegation dogfight.
This year, Saints have saved you from tears – well, until recently – and are currently 11 points off the drop zone.
Almost certainly, they will be in the Premier League for a third successive season in 2014/15, banking those mega millions as a result.
So, good news, eh?
Well, it doesn’t really seem that way at the moment, does it?
Saints head into Christmas Day having banked just two points from six games – the worst run Mauricio Pochettino has overseen since his arrival 11 months ago.
Granted, some of those six games are among the hardest in the top flight – Arsenal and Chelse away.
In addition, they also faced a free-scoring Manchester City side and a Newcastle team enjoying a good run.
So, why the long faces that accompanied Sunday’s 3-2 home loss to Tottenham, a side who – lest we forget – went into the game above Saints in the table?
It’s not as if Saints lost at home to Crystal Palace or Fulham, is it?
And, it’s very much worth remembering, only three years ago Saints went into Christmas having just lost at home to Brentford in the third division.
That is how far Saints have travelled in a short space of time.
But still ....
... there remains a nagging feeling of doubt starting to creep in among some supporters.
Just over a month ago, Saints were sitting very pretty in third place, just a couple of points off top spot.
Could it really be that Pochettino was some kind of current day footballing alchemist?
With just a couple of astute additions to the squad that finished 14th last season, could he transform Saints from relegation candidates to European Champions League possibles?
For a few weeks, the league table allowed fans to dream.
And why not? When your club has teetered on the brink of obscurity in modern times, you are allowed to believe.
The last six games, though, have had the same impact as a bucket of freezing cold water being thrown over you.
As injuries have started to bite deeply into what is not a large squad, Saints’ top-four ambitions have been exposed.
Why, in the last week or so even Manchester United have climbed above them in the table!!
Of course I jest.
To many, the events of the last month or so have come as little surprise.
Pochettino’s first choice team could well be a top-ten side.
Behind that, though, Saints have players good enough to star in a Championship promotion side, but not necessarily of sufficient quality to maintain that top-ten position.
That is the way of football.
Certain players are good enough to get you to a certain level. After that, better players need to come in.
The likes of Jos Hooiveld and Danny Fox almost certainly fall into that category if your ambitions lie in the top half of the Premier League.
Behind them, Paolo Gazzaniga has come in for criticism recently, but he is a young lad with less than 20 Premier League games to his name.
It has been unfair to expose him, and he needs to come out of the firing line.
But Saints have no-one else at the moment unless you want an even younger and more inexperienced keeper (Cody Cropper) to have faced the might of Manchester City et al.
You could argue that Pochettino has been unlucky to be hit with a spate of injuries all at once.
But that is also the way of football.
You could equally argue that Saints were handed one of the kindest starts to a top flight season you could wish to have, and went on to make the most of it.
The next few weeks will be intriguing as the transfer window opens.
Having splashed out the best part of £70m in a year and a half, this is by far and away the most expensive Saints squad in history.
But this is the richest English top flight in history, and no one should be under any doubt that Nicola Cortese needs to write more big cheques if he wants his ambitious plans for the club to materialise.
For a club like Saints to finish mid-table in the Premier League, just a few years after being in the third division, is a massive achievement.
Never forget that.
Having had a taste of the top four, though, raises expectations.
Mauricio Pochettino now has to manage those expectations, as well as an injury-depleted squad ...
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