Sam Tighe previews Southampton's trip to Tottenham in the Premier League in the latest edition of Tactical Watch, in association with Sportsbet.io.
If it feels like 2021/22’s second instalment of Southampton vs Spurs has come around quickly, well, it has. On Wednesday the two will lock horns for the second time in just over 40 days.
Despite little time passing, though, plenty has changed. Both clubs’ form has picked up since Christmas and perhaps no club was more active than Tottenham on transfer deadline day, giving them a freshened-up look for Ralph Hasenhüttl to gauge.
Since taking the reins at Spurs, Antonio Conte has only lost domestically to Chelsea – albeit three times. The vast majority of his other 12 games have resulted in victories, and with several games in hand on their top-four competitors in the Premier League, they’re in a really healthy position.
They’ve steadily improved with each passing month as the players have settled into Conte’s style. The Italian coaches distinct, repetitive patterns into his team’s attack that are now clearly visible in Spurs’ play, so Saints should know how and where they’re going to move the ball – the problem is, it can be difficult to stop.
The more direct ball up to Harry Kane is very common, who acts as a reference point for the attack and sees plenty of the ball. He’ll receive and either bounce the ball back to an onrushing central midfielder, or turn and try to release a runner on the flank. Son Heung-Min’s return from injury and the acquisition of Dejan Kulusevski will bring this to life more and more.
Spurs will also look to feed the wing-backs, and in fact, a high percentage of their passing moves end with a wide man in space, ready to send the ball into the box. End product from these positions has been an issue to date, though, with Spurs’ pursuit of wide men in January suggesting Conte isn’t totally sold on Emerson Royal, Sergio Reguilón and Matt Doherty’s offering in this area.
It is vitally important for Southampton to apply pressure to Kane and prevent him from turning and playing cleanly, while simultaneously covering the channels to track Son and Lucas Moura’s runs in behind. That’s a big ask for a back four, so it might be wise to roll out the back five in order to achieve the correct spread.
Spurs will certainly play a back five, which now includes Cristian Romero, recently returned from injury. He’s one of the most aggressive centre-backs in the world – he’ll step out and challenge for almost anything – and while he’s excellent at it, it’s a high risk/high reward strategy that smart, nippy strikers can exploit at times.
It’s also crucial for Southampton to play with a traditional Hasenhüttl energy, disrupting Spurs where possible and applying pressure in midfield – but be mindful of gassing out too early. Conte has greatly improved Tottenham’s fitness reserves; the number of late goals we’re seeing is no coincidence, nor is the never-say-die spirit. Southampton can match the latter – as evidenced by the 1-1 draw with Manchester City in January – but must remember this is a 100-minute duel with no lapses allowed.