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SOUTHAMPTON SLIPPING BACK INTO RELEGATION TROUBLE
Betfair: 4 March 2013

Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. (c) The Sporting Exchange Limited.

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Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino has stayed out of the spotlight after losing to QPR, but Ralph Ellis fears he could be about to face the full glare of a relegation battle.

Jack Cork says you need two hearts to play for Mauricio Pochettino. Southampton fans are about to discover if you also need nerves of steel.

Harry Redknapp always attracts big headlines so it is no surprise that all the coverage and comment about Queens Park Rangers winning at St Mary's on Saturday has focused on him. The weekend started with big headlines about alleged behaviour on a training trip to Dubai, and ended with even more headlines about Hoops' survival hopes.

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That is probably not a bad thing for Pochettino because it rather takes the focus from what has happened to Saints since he took charge. When Nigel Adkins was sacked on January 18, the club he had guided to two successive promotions were in a run of 17 points from 11 matches. They had learned to find the confidence to play their passing game in the top flight and had won crucial relegation games at QPR and Aston Villa.

Pochittino began with a draw against Everton then drew high praise from Sir Alex Ferguson for his team's performance at Old Trafford - even though they lost - and the focus rather fell away from the Argentine who gives his interviews through an interpreter. But the spotlight is coming back, because Saturday's defeat means Saints have taken just five points from the six matches he has been in charge.

Nobody seems to be ringing alarm bells about that yet. They are just three points above the relegation zone now, yet 4.1 in the relegation market while the four clubs below them - Wigan, Villa, Reading and Rangers - are all odds-on. But a run of three fixtures which begins away to Norwich followed by matches with Liverpool and Chelsea could see that change rather quickly.

A look at Pochettino's record when he first took over Espanyol gives cause for concern. His tactics are based around high energy pressing with maximum fitness - hence Cork's line about needing "two hearts" to do all the running. But to change a team's style like that mid season isn't so simple - he won just one of his first nine games as a manager in Spain while the players adapted to the new way.

He also has a reputation for being inflexible about how he wants to play. His teams in Spain played a high defensive line looking to catch opponents offside which can be exploited by opposition with pace. After starting with that 0-0 against Everton - before his influence had begun - his team have conceded 11 times and not kept a clean sheet in five games.

At Espanyol he had taken over early enough in the season that there was time to get things right. He then won eight of ten matches and finished halfway up the La Liga table. But if it takes him another four or five matches here to start getting results it could be too late.

The removal of Adkins was brutal and unfair. He's still on gardening leave, and has now begun moves to get the remaining three years of his contract settled so he can work again. Replacing him with a manager who had no experience of the Premier League was a massive gamble, and one that may yet come back to haunt the club's executive chairman Nicola Cortese.


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