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Day of decisions for Poch
6:20am Saturday 10th August 2013 in Football
The Saints boss this afternoon takes charge of the club’s final pre-season friendly, and their only one on English soil, as he welcomes La Liga club Real Sociedad to St Mary’s.
Most of those will not take part in another full training session before the season opener against West Brom a week today, placing even more importance on the Sociedad game.
Pochettino knows he needs to find answers to the remaining questions he has for that first game, and has 90 minutes in which to get them.
The Saints manager may well take the opportunity to get one further look at Calum Chambers before the start of the new campaign.
The youngster has been thrust into the spotlight during pre-season.
He has been permanently drafted into the first team squad and signed a new four year contract. With right back Nathaniel Clyne having been nursing an injury, he has also been playing regularly too.
The 18-year-old from Petersfield is an inexperienced rookie and is, naturally, going to understudy to Clyne.
However, with Clyne having had just two halves and then a 26-minute cameo appearance in pre-season due to injury, Pochettino will be weighing up his fitness ahead of the opener at West Brom.
If he can play virtually a full 90 minutes against Sociedad that could settle the question, but if not then Chambers could put himself into pole position to start at The Hawthorns – assuming he can impress his boss one last time this summer.
Pochettino also has to decide on a centre half pairing.
Dejan Lovren may be going away with Croatia on international duty next week, but it isn’t a long trip and the £8.5m signing is a shoe-in to start against Nicola Anelka and his Baggies colleagues – assuming he comes back unscathed.
So the question for Pochettino is, who to start alongside him?
Maya Yoshida would be the obvious choice, but his international commitments throw doubt on that.
Yoshida is travelling to Japan next week for a friendly with Uruguay.
With such extensive flying to be done, Pochettino will have to consider very seriously whether he thinks Yoshida will be up to starting a Premier League fixture so soon after returning.
Yoshida has proved his resilience in such circumstances before, but that was during the middle of a campaign when fully up to speed.
This comes in the summer with the Japanese star having had very little game time with Saints due to an extended rest because of Confederations Cup commitments.
As such, though Pochettino may prefer Yoshida, he might consider it prudent to go with either Jos Hooiveld or Jose Fonte at The Hawthorns.
Whatever he decides, he will surely be hoping to see the pairing work well together against Socieded.
One issue Pochettino may have already settled in his own mind is in regards to his two defensive central midfielders.
Victor Wanyama is surely going to start at West Brom following his high profile £12m arrival. Assuming that is the case, it leaves a straight choice to partner him between Morgan Schneiderlin and Jack Cork.
That partnership was one of the keys to Saints’ success last season, and so to break it up does feel troublesome.
However, it is hard to see how Pochettino could fit all three into the same side.
It is Cork that appears most under threat, with Schneiderlin’s range of passing as well as his defensive qualities so vital to the team.
Cork does have versatility on his side, but even so he may do well to break into the opening-day side.
When it comes to the attacking positions there is no doubt who the main striker is, but the competition for the three places behind Lambert is fierce.
Probably the most attention will inevitably fall upon Gaston Ramirez and whether he fits into Pochettino’s plans for the team.
Though Ramirez might not start at West Brom for the same reasons as Yoshida – the two teammates are set to face each other in Japan – the longer term is intriguing.
Ramirez is undoubtedly a huge talent, and Saints paid £12m for that.
But is he a Pochettino player?
He hasn’t so far shown that tireless work rate, closing down and high pressing game that the manager demands from his team. That simply is not his strength.
So is there a place then for a talent who doesn’t offer that, but does bring something else to the table?
If the answer is ‘yes’ then it will be really interesting to see where he plays, as just off of Lambert in the hole is the obvious place.
If not, then he is a very expensive squad member to have knocking about.
Most managers will privately admit at this stage of the season to having a few questions left to answer, and to wondering whether a few decisions they thought they had made are correct.
Pochettino has one last chance to let the answers come to him.
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