Tactical Watch: Limiting Kane's influence key to success

By SFC Media time Fri 05 Aug Tottenham Hotspur vs Saints

Tactics writer Sam Tighe returns to cast an eye over Southampton's Premier League opponents, starting with Saturday's hosts Tottenham Hotspur. This is Tactical Watch, in association with Sportsbet.io.

How did Spurs’ summer go?

Two main stories emanated from Spurs’ summer, the first of which was an exciting transfer window in which both quality and depth were secured.

Richarlison was a big-money buy from Everton and offers goalscoring, tenacity and clever runs to an attacking corps which badly needed another body; Ivan Perišić upgrades the left-wing-back slot and, even at 33, remains a physical marvel; and Yves Bissouma, Clément Lenglet and Djed Spence bolster the squad ahead of a big campaign.

The other storyline was Antonio Conte’s truly gruelling pre-season training, which should stand Spurs in good stead for the season ahead. Hours upon hours of running during a pre-season tour of South Korea saw players dropping to the turf in exhaustion. It’s standard practice for Conte who did this with Inter, Chelsea and Juventus before – but it’s no less shocking to watch every time!

What’s the main threat?

Tottenham may have diversified their attack by bringing in Richarlison, but he’s suspended for the opener, so you can expect a familiar attacking trident of Harry Kane, Heung-Min Son and Dejan Kulusevski on Saturday.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JULY 13: Son Heung-Min of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates with team mate Harry Kane after scores the sixth goal during the preseason friendly match between Tottenham Hotspur and Team K League at Seoul World Cup Stadium on July 13, 2022 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Han Myung-Gu/Getty Images)
Harry Kane scored five goals in four appearances in pre-season

That means it’s business as usual for Spurs in terms of attacking patterns, so expect Kane to drop in off the forward line to receive the ball to feet, turn, and try to fire passes into space for Son and Kulusevski to run onto.

It’s an extremely difficult move to deal with, as you don’t want to let Kane suck you in and open the space – but you also don’t want to stand off him and let him pick his head up. Controlled aggression is the key for Mohammed Salisu and Co.: step up and disrupt Kane without going too far, and therefore limiting his influence on the game as much as you can.

What else should Saints be wary of?

If Plan A (get it into Kane’s feet and turn) doesn’t work, Spurs will reset and build play more slowly, with the ball likely ending up wide at the feet of one of the wing-backs.

Delivery from these areas was incredibly inconsistent last season, hence why Conte cycled through a number of options (and possibly why he bought two new wing-backs in this summer). Too often play broke down once the ball reached this point.

The question for 2022/23 is whether that delivery has improved. Perišić should help when he’s up to speed, and Emerson Royal’s late-season flourish was encouraging, but it’s something Spurs fans will be watching nervously.

Saints provide the first litmus test for how much (if at all) this has improved, and with a back three in place to head endless balls clear if need be.

Any other notable changes?

Backroom changes aren’t often worth highlighting, but Spurs’ appointment of Gianni Vio as a coach could be significant.

Vio is a set-piece expert and, if his work with the Italian national team and Brentford are anything to go by, should transform the Lilywhites both offensively and defensively from dead-ball situations.

Spurs ended last season in imperious form, but even across an unbeaten final stretch, there was a case to be made that they needed to sharpen up from set-pieces. Perhaps Vio’s effect isn’t as immediate as this weekend, but look out for signs of his clever work.

Predicted XI (3-4-3): Lloris; Romero, Dier, Sánchez; Emerson, Højbjerg, Bentancur, Sessegnon; Kulusevski, Kane, Son.

Notes: 
Ivan Perišić and Ben Davies played very limited parts in pre-season – possibly not ready to start; Richarlison is suspended; Yves Bissouma is still adjusting to Conte’s style.

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