Tottenham’s recent winning streak in the Premier League came to a frustrating end against a resolute Southampton side at St Mary’s yesterday afternoon. It will be viewed as a missed opportunity for Spurs who struggled to break down Southampton after they were reduced to ten men in the 40th minute.
Despite Spurs impressive form since the arrival of Antonio Conte, this game highlighted a few areas that the manager will be keen to address:
Beating the Press
Part of Spurs recent good form can be attributed to their collective team press and winning the ball back high up the pitch – a stark difference between Conte’s Spurs and Spurs under both Jose and Nuno. However, it was evident from the majority of the first half against Southampton, up until the Salisu sending off, that Spurs were struggling to cope when pressed themselves. This often led to Spurs either losing possession – Winks losing the ball on the edge of his own box being one notable example – or resorting to playing longer which would invariably also result in the ball being won back by the hosts.
The problem for Spurs is that they are missing a midfield player who plays slightly further forward of Winks and Hojbjerg that is comfortable receiving possession in tight areas and being the link between the aforementioned midfield pair and the forwards. Normally this results in Kane dropping deeper to fulfil this role which, while it has been effective at times over the last couple of seasons, means that Kane is not then where Conte wants him to be – in the 18-yard box.
There are players at Spurs that could potentially play this role – Ndombele, Dele or Lo Celso spring to mind – but their patchy performances might suggest otherwise.
A Creative Spark
After the sending off Southampton were unable to play with the same intensity, thus allowing Spurs more time on the ball. Which leads on to the next part of the jigsaw and links in with the point above. Since the departure of Christian Eriksen Spurs have never really replaced him with a creative midfielder that has the ability to unlock the door when playing against teams who play with a low block. When teams are more expansive against Spurs, as has been seen in recent weeks, they are very effective at hitting those teams on the break with the pace and ability of the forward players. However, when teams do sit deeper, Spurs miss that creative midfielder in the Eriksen mould. Winks was the closest Spurs had to this sort of player today, with a few excellent forward passes – particularly for Kane’s offside goal – but he is not a player that can do that on a consistent basis.
Kane has not been at his best this season – partly down to the style of football under Nuno – but he has improved in recent weeks and there were further glimpses of his old self yesterday. He was excellent when dropping deep and linking up play (despite a couple of overhit through balls early on) and his first touch and finish for the offside goal were clinical. As a side note – he also showed great game management and leadership twice towards the end of the first half, once when telling Reguilon to focus following his yellow card and then to the rest of the team after a coming together between Dele and a Southampton player stirred the home crowd.
A week is a long time in football and as brilliant as Dele was against Liverpool, his lacklustre performance yesterday was frustratingly similar to many of his performances over the last couple of seasons – and perhaps the last time he will be seen in a Spurs shirt.
Overall, a disappointing result, made all the worse by that controversial VAR offside decision. However, Christmas football guarantees one thing – a chance to make amends sooner rather than later – in Spurs’ case, an away trip to Watford on New Year’s Day.
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